U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Provide adequate time for data system development and testing

Many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners found that setting up their information technology (IT) systems early in the program design stage ensured that data terms and data entry procedures were consistently applied by all system users. Reaching agreement with stakeholders (e.g., contractors, lenders, marketing partners, evaluators, program staff) on what data the data system would collect, known as system requirements, and how the collected data would be used to evaluate the program helped programs ensure that the data collected was complete. Programs have also found that they receive data of the quality needed for graphs and cost-effectiveness calculations when stakeholders agree up front that the data will be used for these purposes and not just to track energy savings and expenditures.

  • Be SMART Maryland found that transitioning from spreadsheet-based data collection system to a customized energy IT system was crucial to administering a multifaceted energy efficiency program with rigorous data collection requirements. Investing in their system while they were still designing their program allowed Be SMART to smoothly integrate the system into the program’s operations and to ensure quality data collection and integrity over time. Be SMART also found that while spreadsheets were useful tools in collecting data, their use in analyzing data and generating reports was limited, since the program had to go through a time-consuming consolidation process to combine data from different sources and spreadsheets.
  • In Boulder County, Colorado, EnergySmart found that it took between four to six months for a database developer and coding consultant to fully develop and test the data system because of its high level of complexity and the customization required. The program also found that having actual users test the system with real inputs and real reporting requirements helped ensure better data quality and user-friendliness. In addition, EnergySmart found that before beginning database development, it was important to reach agreement among stakeholders on what reporting will be expected, and design the database to facilitate building and exporting the reports. For EnergySmart, it was important to set expectations with report recipients about the IT system’s reporting capabilities early on in the process, so recipients did not expect reports that the system was unable to produce.
See all tips from these handbooks:

Develop evidence-based insights into your program’s performance through third-party process and impact evaluations. Learn how to develop effective data collection strategies and timely evaluations to identify important program achievements as well as opportunities for making program improvements.

Identify the right questions to ask, appropriate metrics to collect, and the processes needed to initiate third-party impact and process evaluations.

Identify and implement systems and tools that will support data collection and data quality necessary for effective evaluation.

Solidify your program strategy and decide which customers you will focus on; what products, services, and support you will provide; and how you will partner with contractors and others to deliver services to your customers.

Develop a detailed plan for launching and operating your program that integrates all program components into a process that is customer-friendly and efficient for contractors and other partners.

Develop the necessary materials, tools, and staff capacity to effectively deliver and manage your program.