Data-Driven Performance Improvement
After 15 years of providing analytical services to child welfare and juvenile justice agencies, the SafeMeasures® team has learned that you cannot simply provide access to outcome data and expect that positive changes will happen. Real change requires a commitment to examining the processes that underlie outcomes and improving the performance of each individual staff person. Case management data can be a significant catalyst for this change, but it must be presented properly to have a positive effect.
Our SafeMeasures experiences have shown that a system that uses case management data to monitor and improve staff performance must be the following.
Timely—Data must be updated frequently so staff know which cases are in compliance and which need action. Reports that track cases that closed six months ago can track progress, but they cannot promote change.
Transparent—The system must allow users to drill down to the case level and understand why each case meets standards or does not. This allows them to take appropriate corrective actions when they can and learn from mistakes when they cannot. The system also needs to reward staff who fix invalid or inaccurate data by reanalyzing it to give staff credit for work actually accomplished.
Responsive—The system must be flexible to accommodate changing regulations, policies, and priorities. A system that does not meet the needs of its users is quickly discarded. Furthermore, the people supporting the system must be responsive to staff questions. When staff can drill down into a list of non-compliance cases, they inevitably have questions about the accuracy and validity of the categorization. Responsive support staff can help them identify documentation issues or problems in the analyses. Without this, users doubt the accuracy of, and ultimately dismiss, the system.
Comprehensive—The system must track what happens with every active client. Analyses that exclude clients who “don’t fit” run the risk of allowing those clients to fall through the cracks. In addition, this information must be available to everyone in the agency. Dashboard systems that are only available to executives deny a valuable tool to the staff who can actually affect change.
A system built on these principles provides a solid foundation for process and performance monitoring that provides staff at all levels of an agency with accurate, up-to-date, relevant information on how they are performing now. However, monitoring staff performance is not enough. To truly create change, this monitoring information must be transformed into tools that help staff understand what they need to do next.
Once we have identified a way to monitor a task, it is very straight-forward to look ahead and see when that task needs to be completed for each open case. This information can then be displayed to the assigned staff person in a way that helps him/her plan and prioritize his/her work.
When a system embraces these principles and moves beyond monitoring performance to providing tools to help improve performance, it creates a number of positive results.
Common Understanding—Working with a transparent system helps staff gain a better understanding of regulations, policies, and practices, as well as how to correctly document them.
Improved Data Quality—When staff understand how to correctly document their work and are rewarded for fixing invalid or inaccurate data by seeing their performance numbers rise, the case management system data do a better job of reflecting the work actually being done. This improves data quality, resulting in better case tracking, performance monitoring, and reporting to federal and local stakeholders.
Increased Trust—When a case management system accurately reflects the work being done, staff and stakeholders are more likely to trust that system and any reports that come from it. With increased trust comes increased willingness to use the information the system contains.
Proactive, Directed Action—Accurate, trusted information that can be used to plan and prioritize work leads to a focused, proactive approach to case management. Work is planned and done on a timely basis. Procedures and best practices are followed because staff are not just reacting to the latest crisis.
Ultimately, this leads to improved performance on the core processes that we believe lead to improved outcomes. Data is the catalyst, but the real improvement comes from staff who trust that data to become proactive in their work and embrace it, can see the results of those efforts in a concrete form, and are encouraged and rewarded for their improved performance.
Timothy J. Connell, PhD, brings a unique combination of statistical analysis, research design, and software development skills to NCCD, where he focuses on creating innovative systems that help users leverage information to make better decisions and improve practice. Tim draws on his background in educational research and software development to design and create easy-to-use software that meets the needs of users and researchers.