Establishing a Single Source of Truth
in Social Service Organizations
by Madeline Lang
November 1, 2017
Disagreements can be driven by a myriad of factors including a discrepancy in the information available to the parties involved.
In an effort to mitigate these conflicts, it’s important to have a single source of truth within your social services organization.
A single source of truth is one source of accurate data that’s trusted by everyone in the organization.
Without a single source of truth, it can be hard to identify even simple metrics like the number of clients you serve, and trying to break things down by demographics, service locations or staff members, can be virtually impossible.
By establishing that one source of reliable information, you and your colleagues can more easily come to productive, data-driven conclusions. An accurate source of information is also vital when submitting funding applications.
It sounds like a simple idea. But in practice it can be hard to establish.
What’s Preventing Our Single Source of Truth?
Legacy systems, siloed data, or having no established reporting system, are possible reasons behind different versions of the truth. Siloed data is information that is separate from the rest of the organization’s files.
It might consist of departmental data, the data from a specific location, or even data held by a specific individual or case worker. Individually, each of these silos can have their own version of the truth.
Most of the time, the information that is there is valuable to the entire organization but because of its nature cannot be accessed or cross-referenced with other silos.
By pulling all your data into one efficient system, you can start to gain a better idea of the big picture. Bringing together all the available facts is an important part of establishing a single source of truth.
Legacy systems (i.e. outdated systems that have been in place for ages) are a classic example of silos.
You might be tracking your client information in one system, billing in another, and keeping track of staff time in a third. Ultimately, these are all things that work together. Pulling your information into a single system might reveal some useful insights like which of your clients is costing the most in terms of staff time and money.
Integrating your data into one efficient system does not mean that you need to give all users access to all information. In order to restrict access to the relevant groups, you should be able establish security classes within your chosen system.
Establishing a single source of truth can be especially challenging when you are working with paper and spreadsheets. It can be difficult to understand trends and getting data out of your system can be more time-consuming. While the truth may exist within a paper system, it can be challenging to get it out.
A final challenge to the single source of truth is a lack of buy-in from everyone in the organization. In order to get the truth, everyone needs to be on board. However you might choose to go about establishing your source of truth, you want to make sure that everyone’s information is included and accurate.
Why is it so important?
Forming a single source of truth brings everyone onto the same page.
While people may have different interpretations of the results, there are facts to back them up. Predictions can be made with increased accuracy. Decisions have a more solid foundation on which to stand.
It can also be more cost-effective to aggregate your data. You are no longer required to manage so many systems, or to train on such a variety of systems. This can save your organization both time and money.
Funding and grant applications are hugely data-driven. By reporting on the facts, you can truly communicate the impact your organization is having on the people that you serve.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
Even after you establish a single source of truth, it’s important to keep questioning it.
If you know in your gut that the data presented feels somehow wrong, it’s definitely worth investigating. Sometimes data may be shocking but true. Other times, you may be right to investigate the source of the information.
Perhaps there have been some reporting inaccuracies, a miscalculation, or an automation error. Understanding where the information comes from is an important step in ensuring the integrity of your single source of truth.
How Can I Establish my Organization’s Single Source of Truth?
Finding that single source of truth is not like flipping a light switch – it will take both time and effort to establish.
For many social service agencies, the single source of truth comes in the form of a case management system like Penelope. Finding software that fits your organization can be a complicated process, but the results, particularly around consistent reporting, are worth it.
There are lots of system options in this area and it’s important to find one that meets the reporting needs of your organization.
Case management software combines information from across your organization, allowing you to look at data across the organization as a whole, by specific locations, by demographics, and more.
Some systems, like Penelope, will have a diverse range of predefined reports for many different types of agencies. These libraries of reports make pulling organization-wide data simple and fast.
Even if a report doesn’t already exist in a case management system, it is possible to create one or have one created for you.
When looking for a system make sure that you are able to export your data as well. That way you can analyze it using the system of your choice. In establishing a single source of truth, both the incoming and outgoing data need to be healthy and easy to access.
Establishing, or finding, your organization’s single source of truth can be a challenge, but it is definitely one worth pursuing!
If you’re interested in learning more about Penelope, contact us to schedule a free Penelope demo today!
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