Purdue University College of Agriculture’s shared their experience with leveraging Activity Insight to measure impacts at our recent User Group conference. Team members Dawn Parks, Assistant Director of Sponsored Programs, Julie Huetteman, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, and Alee Gunderson, Associate Data Analyst, discussed their efforts to measure the impact of the College of Agriculture’s faculty, staff and Extension programs on the community.
Purdue University opened its doors in 1874 with six instructors and 39 students as a land-grant institution with a mandate to teach agriculture, conduct agricultural research, and deliver knowledge and practical information to farmers and consumers. Today, Purdue boasts more than 40,000 students across 13 colleges and schools, and offers more than 200 majors. In the inaugural The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking of U.S. colleges published in September, Purdue placed fourth among public institutions.
It Starts With the CV
In 2014, the College of Agriculture team was looking for a better way to meet their reporting requirements and especially to be able to measure impacts. The university had begun implementing Activity Insight in 2011, and by 2014 more than 1,200 CVs were already in the system. Since much of the data needed for reporting resides in CVs, it looked like the right place to start to meet the school’s three biggest reporting requirements:
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Faculty web profile pages
- Annual/regular reporting done by Purdue’s Cooperative Extension, which provides scientific research-based information and education to community members in every county in Indiana.
Putting Data to Work
The College of Agriculture’s previous reporting system consumed data and did its own calculations, but wasn’t searchable, and data wasn’t accessible for other uses. It was also impossible to determine where data had come from or how calculations had been made when questions about its accuracy arose. For example when questioned if a particular website really got more than nine million hits in the previous year, there was no way to verify the accuracy of data or reporting.
Purdue needed a new system that could not only gather the data, but also allow them to measure various impacts. “Saying you created 7,000 publications, what does that mean?” Parks asked. The statistic was only half of the answer.
Purdue needed to be able to report in a way that told a compelling story of action: the number of people who attended an Extension program, the number of app downloads to track pest issues, the number of farmers who implemented a particular recommendation and witnessed a change in crop yields.
From Data to Impact
The two main sources of data come from faculty and the Extension. Data collection and reporting had to accommodate teams that included both faculty and staff, and the chain of events that leads, for example, from university research through Extension programming to outcomes for individual farmers or others in the community.
Early conversations with Digital Measures Solution Specialists Steve DeLonge and Andrew Wiech helped the team “be more creative” as they considered how to accommodate the myriad types of units of measure, activities and outcomes the College of Agriculture must be able to report, Dawn said.
By identifying needed outputs, the Purdue team was able to consider the categories and tags that would make their data as powerful as possible. Data had to be meaningful, sortable and flexible, drilling down to the minutiae as well as providing the big picture.
“The power of Activity Insight is in customization. This is all about customizing” screens for data input and reporting, Parks said. This customization allows the College of Agriculture to measure the impacts of their work from many angles, and to surface the stories that illustrate those impacts.
Being able to slice and dice data for many reporting needs has also made it possible for the College of Agriculture to meet the reporting requests of additional internal and external stakeholders including:
- University president
- County officials
- Extension directors
- Individual users/faculty
Every Impact Tells a Story
“When we think about impact, we’re trying to describe what happened with the research funding dollars that we’ve received,” Parks noted. “To be able to quote numbers is really important … but to be able to say, ‘Your $5 million made a breakthrough in terms of a new fertilizer application that is healthier for the water and the soil,’ that’s [what] they want to know about.”
Parks’ team created an app that showcases many of the high-impact stories that come out of Extension research, teaching and programs. It’s often used to share those stories with local government, state representatives, the governor and others. The app has videos of the stories, links back to the original research or project and more. “We can email that story off to somebody who wants it right from the app,” she continued. “This has been been really helpful in promoting Extension programs and services in the community.”
How do your university’s efforts impact the community? Consider using data already available in your Activity Insight to measure and report on impacts—then share your stories of making a difference.