Planning your database
A good place to start the design of a database is at the end, by being clear what questions it is designed to answer. Ask yourself what you’re trying to find out. What do you think your database can tell you? How will it help your work?
- Managing the contact details of people who use our service will help us create mailing labels for our annual report.
- We will use a list of people who have donated money as the basis for a list of people who might donate money in the future.
- Reports showing the age, gender, ethnicity, income and postcode of people we have helped in the past year will indicate possible areas for future work.
- Gathering information about what users think of our service will help us identify their needs and deliver a more valuable service.
Budgeting your time
Whether it is a member of staff, volunteer or consultant leading the project, the amount of time taken for planning is often underestimated. Before you get to the technical details you need tothink through the commitment you’re making and be sure you have the budget and support you need.
Be realistic about the time needed to co-ordinate the initial planning process and collec tinformation about the needs of those who will be using the database. This includes:
- staff time to develop the database plan
- the cost of buying or building the database
- staff time to test the database
- training staff to use the database
- time to manage, maintain and use the database.
How much to spend?
Start by identifying the problem that needs to be solved and the benefits the database will bring, such as saving staff time, improving the quality of service or delivering monitoring information to funders. The value of these potential benefits will help set an initial budget, which can then be modified as you talk to suppliers and contractors. Speak to people from other organisations to see whether you have got the figure about right.
The process of agreeing the budget is the opportunity to make sure you have the clear support and involvement of senior management and trustees. Developing a new database can’t be seen assimply a technical issue – it is likely to affect the whole organisation and it needs senior-levelsupport. This top-level focus will be vital once the development process becomes more technically driven.
What to include in your database plan
A database plan is the starting point for building your own DIY database, or will be used as the brief when approaching a database developer or supplier. Its main purpose it to summarise what you require, and it should be written in plain language and either avoid or explain any technical jargon.
Spending time on the planning process ensures that you have a clear idea of the type of database your organisation needs, can afford and is able to support. A simple plan would include:
- Current position
Your organisation's overall objectives, a review of what you already have, the benefits a new database will offer
- Information flow
What data you need to collect and who collects it – including partners. Who requires reports and what reports do they need.
Your initial estimate of timescale and budget will become more and more accurate as the planning process continues.
- Who is involved?
Who is leading the project? Who will use the database? Who will maintain it? What skills dothey have? Includes staff, volunteers, partners, other suppliers, etc.
- Hardware and software requirements
Any limits created by your current set-up, such as the age of the computers, or whether they are PCs or Macs, and whether they have Windows or Linux installed? Do you have a network, or any remote workers? Is there a budget for upgrades?
Which staff will need training in the use of the system? How will it be delivered?
May include installing upgrades, adding new features or troubleshooting. Suppliers or developers may offer telephone support, but charge extra for on-site help. If you are building your own system, who will be available for ongoing support?
Being thoroughly prepared and adopting a step by step approach to the process of database development should help you end up with a database that meets your needs:
Decide what you want, prepare a business case for funders and your management committee, agree indicative budget, outline timetable and the scope of the project.
Write an initial project plan, as a brief for the tender process, and use interviews to select a contractor.
- Contractual discussion
Agree what will be delivered when, payment schedule, project management arrangements, roles and responsibilities, and dispute processes.
Functional specification is agreed and signed off, stage by stage development, progress reports, testing, debugging.
Installation, training and ongoing support.
Lessons learned and plans for the next version.
Advice and support
- Funding and finance
- Coping with cuts
- Addressing needs
- Managing change
- Planning for the future
- Involving people
- Public Service Delivery
- Governance and leadership
- Compact Advocacy programme
- Campaigning and influencing policy
- Collaborative working
- ICT (information and communication technology)
- Climate change
- People, HR and employment