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Resource Center > Provider Toolkit > The NIATx Way > Measure Baseline Data

Measure Baseline Data

Measuring baseline data allows you to answer this question: How will we rapidly know a change is an improvement?

As you go about making changes in your organization, a few questions will naturally arise:

  • How will you know which changes worked, and which did not?
  • How will you know which changes resulted in an improvement?
  • Which changes are the most important and resulted in the greatest improvement?

By collecting data before, during, and after the change you implement, you can measure, evaluate, and compare your agency’s progress with respect to the goals you set out. The process of measuring change should speed the improvement process; you should begin with simple measures rather than spending time developing a complex measurement system.

Measuring the impact of change is an important aspect of successful organizational improvement. These steps are designed to help guide your agency in the timely and accurate measurement of change.

Define your measures

Change Teams establish clear measures and definitions prior to the start of a change project. The measures should clarify the project objectives and should be agreed upon by key stakeholders.

Think about what results you would see. For example:

  • If the aim is to increase initial patient use of a service or treatment, count the number of patients who start each month.
  • If the aim is to increase continued patient use of a service or treatment, count the number of uses per patient within a fixed period of time (e.g., number of treatment sessions per month).
  • If the aim is to reduce waiting time from the 1st contact to the 1st treatment, count the number of days each patient waits, or ask “How many days until the next available appointment for an assessment? for 1st treatment appointment?
  • If the aim is to reduce missed appointments, calculate the percent of appointments that are not kept .

Each of these examples defines the measure you can use to track the impact of changes.

Collect baseline data

The Change Team defines a starting point for the change and works backwards to collect baseline data before making any changes.

  • You need a data collection plan: Who will collect the data, when, and how?
  • Develop a simple form to help you collect the data. Use charts to visually depict the data—they are much easier to interpret than tables of numbers.

Data collection tips

Your decisions based on data will only be as good as the data themselves. Here are some tips for making sure your data are accurate and reliable:

  1. Clearly define the data you will be collecting. For example, if you’re measuring “time” between first contact and first appointment, when does the clock start and stop? What would count as “one day” of elapsed time?
  2. Do a PDSA of the data collection methods you want to use: Plan how to collect the data, Do a small test where team members practice using the instructions, Study the results, and Act to improve your data collection procedures.
  3. Check the data periodically during the data collection process to make sure the agreed-upon procedures are being used consistently.

When collecting data: be sure to collect enough data to generate a representative sample. A good rule of thumb is to collect data on at least 40 clients.

Be mindful of the potential for seasonal variations—sampling today, this week, or this month may not yield the same sample that you would obtain at different points in time. School vacations, holidays, and weather conditions may also affect your data sample.

Collect Data and Chart your Progress

In the next step, you’ll be selecting and testing changes to the process. An important part of the Change Project is to continue collecting measurement data on a regular and consistent basis using the agreed-upon definitions and charting progress. Over time your agency will collect both pre-change (baseline) and post-change data. Share the data with the Change Team as well as others in your organization.