Data Collection Challenges and Tips

Published: December 22, 2012

NOTE: This toolkit was published by Building Changes in 2013 to help counties meet a 2014 state mandate that all counties have a coordinated entry system for clients entering the homeless system. It has not been updated since then and does not necessarily reflect current or best practice.


The challenges and tips detailed in this section are actual experiences and results of other counties’ data collection processes. The purpose of this information is to lessen miscalculations and oversights that can delay the success of a coordinated entry system.


  • An HMIS that isn’t ready to track intakes and assessments or inventory housing and services
  • Getting partner agencies to accept final-intake and comprehensive assessment forms so database fields can be matched to the forms
  • Glitches with the data system, e.g., not having enough of the right personnel on staff or contracted out to work on the database and capably interpret the information
  • The cost to make adjustments to the local system can be difficult to pinpoint due to unforeseen problems.
  • When using the local HMIS platform for coordinated entry, regions can often be delayed in creating a fully operational database due to the prioritization of the database for other needs.
  • Maintaining data quality through timely data entry, data completeness, and accurate data entry and consistency
  • Collecting data from domestic violence survivors poses unique needs for a data- collection system and must be accommodated.


Counties with coordinated entry systems in use offer these pointers for successful data collection:

  • Share HMIS and other related systems data between organizations to bring collaboration alive by showing how households used a variety of services to stabilize their housing. Viewing each other’s work through concrete data strengthens collaborations and trust among agency partners.
  • Have time during regular partner meetings to address data quality; offer regular trainings for new staff.
  • Have clear written policies for collecting data from domestic violence survivors to guarantee the household’s privacy.
  • Have staff check each other’s data entry to improve the quality of data collection.
  • When using direct-entry methods at face-to-face intakes, allow the client to look on during entry to build trust, which encourages the client to submit valid information.
  • When collecting intake data on paper, data should be entered daily to ensure timely collection.
  • It is helpful to create a data-handling process so all staff understand procedures for entering new clients, updating existing client information, entering exit data, and re-enrolling clients who are re-entering services.
  • Indicate clearly which data fields must be entered to eliminate confusion and subjective decision making.
  • The lead fiscal agency should be charged with managing data collection: interpreting and cross-referencing HMIS and parallel-systems data, survey and evaluation responses, and other associated systems data—to report to stakeholders—on the outcomes of services and the coordinated entry system.
  • Develop an incentive program for timely, complete, consistent, and accurate data entry.

Next: Data Collection Resources

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