Author: Sean Chitty, IT Manager

Photo Credit: Luca Bravo

In late 2015, Skillpoint’s admin team began work on developing a new in-house database to better represent the incoming data from participants of the Gateway program. After careful consideration, it became apparent that the best option for successful data collection and integrity would come from an Access database built specifically to serve the needs of our team and funders. Project Hedgehog spent roughly 8 months in beta phase, while myself and other team members determined how to make this database work for us instead of against our workflow.

Moving into 2017, Project Hedgehog left its beta (development) phase and officially went live for all staff. The impact it’s had on Skillpoint is far greater than I could have expected, particularly when it comes to staff time and costs. The biggest impact was the move from hand entry of the hundreds of applications received for the Gateway program annually to an automated system connecting our website to Project Hedgehog. Since the summer of 2016, the automation of application entry into the database has saved 19,000 minutes or 8 weeks of staff time. This is in addition to other benefits associated with automation, such as the removal of transcription errors.

Following closely on the list of improvements is a capacity to know where we stand with each grant deliverables in real time. Project Hedgehog’s dashboard allows members of staff to check Skillpoint’s progress on each of our major grants whenever they’d like.  While this information is obviously most applicable to outreach work and class planning, it’s good that everyone have access to this vital indicator of organizational health. This allows staff involved with Compliance or Grant delivery to better understand our funding sources as well.

With this database, we have the ability to look at the most current data, while also presenting program data in a tailored and efficient way.  Each staff member using Hedgehog has a different data entry role, and each role should not have to filter through huge quantities of information pertaining to other roles. By showing them only what they need to see via role-specific entry forms, we have been able to cut down on the time it takes them to perform any given task; and by presenting analysis and tools that are pertinent to their specific role, we give staff members greater control over their work and the parts of the system that most directly affect them.

Now that have been working with Project Hedgehog for over a year, exciting new possibilities are beginning to emerge.  We have a better grip on our immediate past than ever before, and that means that we have achievement benchmarks from which to move forward.  We now know how our current work compares to our past work in areas such as acceptance and graduation rates, post-graduation employment status and are able to do more in depth analysis on additional data points like veterans served.

Moving forward, we are beginning to develop tools to allow us to better communicate our successes to our grantors.  While we are now much more able to quickly answer new questions concerning our participants and our results, we are going to go further, adding new hooks within the database specific to our current and prospective grantors.  In particular, we are moving toward identifying our organizational impact on the individual city council districts, so that we can better make our case when the city budget rolls around again. In the coming year we look forward to continuing to hone Project Hedgehog into a better tool to work cohesively with our changing programs.