4.1.3 Database

Every large scale project needs an in-house database programmer. If the organization is small and cannot afford a programmer, then they should form a relationship with someone who can work consistently with them over a long period. Although external assistance can be critical to getting a project moving, and can be very useful at strategic points during the process, there still needs to be someone in-house who can handle routine issues. If the project begins by depending on an external expert to do all the programming, countless tiny issues can become major impediments to the continuing development of the information management system.

In my experience, every human rights data project runs into literally hundreds of minor data issues. Some data processors' coding is systematically wrong and needs to be redone -- through re-programming, not through re-typing. An organization analyst needs a special, new report. Or a minor bug surfaces in the data entry screens. Any of these situations can be solved in minutes (or at most a few hours) if there is a system programmer as part of the team. However, if the organization doesn't have a programmer, hours or weeks of work may need to be redone, tediously. In this situation organization decision makers may be unable to make full use of the database because the report they need could not be produced.

In comparison to the previous two tasks, data entry is usually much easier and much faster. These folks type the coded information given to them by the data processors. It is important that the system programmers set up data entry screens that as closely as possible look like the coding forms completed by the data processors. This minimizes the work data entry staff have to do.

In one project I worked on, 4 data entry people were easily able to manage the output of 10 data processors. Data entry staff can begin work as soon as there are sufficient interviews processed. They might begin after the data processors have worked for approximately two weeks. It is worth noting that some data processors find that it is easier for them to do the data entry then to pass the processed materials to others. This is a question of taste.

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