Putting Data into Action with Field Services Staff
Data is critical to managing a shelter effectively and efficiently, though it may not always be used by animal services officers to drive their day-to-day work. For this topic, I was excited to be able to talk with one of the best in the business, Ed Jamison, director of Dallas Animal Services (DAS), who has spent 17 years in field services and animal shelter management. Although he has many demands on his time as the director of DAS, Ed makes it a point to get out with field services officers when he can so that he never loses touch with the reality of working in the community.
Why is it important to collect and review data in animal sheltering?
Our industry has long operated based on how things feel and not necessarily on what is truly happening. When we look at data on the different calls coming into dispatch, we can deploy resources where they are truly needed to get the desired result.
For example, when I first came to DAS the headlines were “Jamison hired to fix the loose dog crisis.” And there was a crisis at that time, with packs of free-roaming dogs causing problems with citizens. Once we started collecting the data on aggressive dogs, we could see that these were not unowned packs of loose dogs for the most part. Overwhelmingly, the data showed that these dogs had owners.
We knew that fixing the problem wasn’t about just securing a dog; it was about working with the owner on all possible aspects of the issue. Why is the dog loose? What’s getting in the way of keeping the animal secure? Is it a hole in the fence or is the owner not aware of the laws and ordinances? We know that we are often able to fix the problem once we talk to the owner.
Our city council members are very data-driven in their decision-making and they want to solve problems. Once they saw the results of our data collection, they were receptive to us adjusting our programming to provide more support to dog owners.
Talk a little bit about how you are using the shelter management system to support the kind of data collection that’s important to DAS.
We use Chameleon and I’ll be honest: when I came to Dallas, I hated Chameleon. In fact, we were about to go out to bid for a new system, but that is a whole involved process that takes a long time. Instead, we brought Chameleon in and gave the developers a list of 41 things DAS needed to have changed. They fixed 38 of those in four hours because many of them were simple things.
I would tell shelters to talk to the software developer before just throwing in the towel. If you need to collect a certain kind of data, find any way to record it and then work with the developer to find a solution. Our officers were typing in good notes, but you had to open each file because it wasn’t possible to pull a report from the comments. Now we have added in certain drop-downs menus that we can run reports on.
Most developers really care about this industry. If you truly talk to them about what you are trying to do, they often will find a way to develop a patch and add in that functionality or feature.
What types of data would you like to see being collected differently in the industry?
Dog bites. Nobody records them the same way; some don’t even record them at all, or they quarantine dogs for scratches as well as bites. We need to figure out a way to categorize bites depending on context to be able to compare data consistently across our industry.
DAS breaks down bite data into a few categories, like in-home bites where the owner is the victim, or the bite occurred on someone visiting the home. Well, DAS has no control over the 1,400 bites that occur in the home.
Instead, I talk to the public and to city council about the 600 loose dog bites, the ones that occur when people are walking to their mailbox or riding a bike down the street. That’s the important number because those are the ones that DAS can focus on controlling.
What advice do you have to get field services officers on board with collecting and using data in their work?
First, you must make sure the data is accessible to them. When I started here, the 311 system and field services department did not even have access to the data in Chameleon. Now it is all interfacing, and the information is at the officer’s fingertips.
As I said earlier, data allows us to respond to what is really happening as opposed to how something feels. For instance, an officer may be called out to an address that they think sounds familiar. By having the data in hand, they can see if they are being called out to a situation that is brand new or to a situation involving the same parties or dogs repeatedly.
Field services officers should also understand that good data justifies their jobs and helps us get additional resources. Politicians have a million other things to worry about, but they can digest data and understand allocation of resources. Recently, the city council looked at our data and saw that, because we were underfunded, they couldn’t expect performance at a certain level. They ended up giving us an operations team because the data proved it was needed.
Above all, if an officer is out there doing good work, why wouldn’t they want to let data tell their story? Data is a good employee’s best friend.
Next week, part two of this blog will go into more details about what shelters should be tracking as well as how to set metrics for success that support more community-minded animal control.
For additional information about how to use data to drive your problem-solving and community outreach, go here.
Director of national municipal and shelter support
Best Friends Animal Society