Avoiding Common Mistakes in Data Requests

Vincent Brandon, Data Coordinator
July 29, 2020


Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Three weeks or three months? When do you need your data?

In this article we’ll talk about some common reasons data requests get held up. Some reports are simply that complicated; however, keep these tips in mind when you craft your request. Remember, the UDRC is your partner in research. Let’s dive in.

Top 3 Common Causes of Delay

  1. No clear hypothesis and no proposal outline – the ‘exploratory trap’

  2. You are absolutely right if you think to yourself, ‘If only I could see everything about these people as they go about that activity, I know there would be some interesting findings.’ Just be aware you might not be getting data for months. A breakdown of the UDRC process helps clarify why.

    Every column, feature, form, standard, and transformation (could be as simple as transforming the date to age) is internally reviewed. The more you ask for, the longer the build process, longer the review process. Some requests have so many features and tables, that the review can take weeks of multiple meetings, fixes, and clarification requests.

    Before delivering any data to researchers, the UDRC must obfuscate data from any records that could potentially identify an individual. The more identifying features, the more likely subsets of data will be lost to the dreaded X’s. More back and forth. More delay. Exploratory analysis is an important part of discovery. With novel research, sometimes you have to jump in. Gear up for that journey. It’ll take a while.

    (Savings: 2 months)

  3. Too broad a scope and no clear end product

  4. Scope in research can be thought of as the set of hypothesis intended to be tested by the dataset and the set of outputs from the research. Too many hypothesis gets you back to the exploratory trap. No clear end product sets off review flags for stakeholders and management.

    A requirement of the UDRC data request process is signing up for review prior publication of any document, brief, or materials for public distribution based on analysis of the data. We work closely with our stakeholders who like to know how their data is being used. Stakeholder can deny a request if the UDRC cannot communicate the scope and end result in enough detail. Spend a few minutes with your team and draw a box around your request and an arrow to a definite output with an estimated audience.

    (Savings: 2 weeks)

  5. Know if you are exempt or not

  6. IRB exempt, I mean. Most research using UDRC data will be exempt. There are two broad categories of exemption:

    1. Your data request comes from one of the partner agencies (USBE, USHE, UTECH, DWS or UDOH) or one of the major branches of the State of Utah government.
    2. Your data request will be used for one of the following reasons:
      • Operational activities (internal decision making)
      • Studies for internal management purposes (program evaluation, quality assurance, quality improvement, fiscal, or program audits)
      • Marketing studies (internal decision making)
      • Contracted for services (external decision making)

    Save some meeting time and a potentially lengthy review by being ready to discuss how your chosen category applies. Knowing the end product and audience can help make your case. If exempt status cannot be clearly ascertained, an IRB review is required prior to work.

    (Savings: 2 months)

Let’s get data! Keep these tips in mind as you design your request so we can get to the good part: building your novel dataset.