A Management Information System or MIS is a systematic, uniform method for collecting and reporting information about a particular program, event, or activity. MIS structures vary greatly in terms of the way information flows into the system, the types of reports generated, and the level of detail. The amount of reliance on computers is a variable that affects the way an MIS is structured. Some require highly trained staff for data entry, quality control, and other MIS functions; other systems are less sophisticated. Ultimately, an organization’s MIS is based on its unique needs, capabilities and resources.
As you finalize your plans for project implementation is an excellent time for a new grantee to set up an MIS that is tailored to the project’s unique information requirements. This chapter describes how you can systematically collect information about key program elements to make informed judgments about your project’s effectiveness in achieving its goals and using its resources. With accurate, timely information about your grant’s activities, you can be a better manager and obtain objective evidence of your project’s value to the community. In addition, an organized and well-planned MIS assists you in providing required information and reports to DOL.
Whether elaborate or simple, an MIS is worthwhile only if it achieves its designated purposes. At a minimum, you need an MIS that producesthe required federal reports. In addition, your MIS should yield reports that guide management decisions. Finally, you may also want reports that offer staff feedback on how well clients are doing or that inform partners and the community about frontline operational issues. Therefore, the system you develop may be used:
❖ To meet federal and programmatic requirements for use in monitoring and evaluating. At a minimum, grantees must submit two types of reports to DOL:
1. Programmatic or Program Reports 2. Fiscal or Financial Reports
❖ To implement, manage and evaluate your program in an effective way. An effective MIS provides you with clear, concise information about how your project is operating and whether you are making progress towards project goals and objectives. This information facilitates awareness that expenditure of funds is keeping pace with your timetable and project work and notes inefficiencies in service delivery in time for corrective action. Information also is available to support adjustments in staffing, grant expenditures, accountability provisions, and service delivery methods. Thus, managers can make adjustments in their project operating plans to ensure project success. Without the MIS, managers are operating in the dark.
❖ To guide staff in more effective service delivery. These data can also be configured to address information needs at all staff levels. Your staff can determine if they are adequately serving their target population and, if not, change their approach or allocate more resources to service delivery.
❖ To inform outsiders. Your MIS can provide information on program successes to inform partners and community members on project accomplishments, and support program promotion and public awareness activities.
BASIC STEPS TO DEVELOP AN MIS
Developing an effective and efficient MIS is no simple matter. The schematic on the last page of this handout provides an overview of one example of an MIS and its development process. As portrayed in the chart, designing an MIS involves several sequential, concrete steps. These include:
• Identifying system type (manual or computer-automated system);
• Identifying the types of information to be collected;
• Developing data collection methods;
• Instituting a reporting system; and
• Establishing and implementing quality control procedures.
We will summarize the components of each step and the advantages/disadvantages of certain approaches. We also will provide suggestions for improving your system and examples where relevant.
Identify the Type of System Needed
The first step in developing your MIS is to decide whether you want a manual (hand-processed) or an automated (computer-processed) system. A manual system requires your staff to complete forms that contain all the information on your project. Forms completed manually by your staff may include attendance records, participant profiles, and the results of any assessments of entrance criteria that you may use to screen applicants. Your staff then establish a filing system that systematically organizes the information so it is easily accessed and can be compiled into reports. Staff are responsible for aggregating all numerical data and presenting the information in a clear, concise way.
An automated system relies on a computer to aggregate data and produce the desired reports. Line staff may enter data directly into the computer or complete basic forms that a data entry clerk enters into the computer. A primary consideration in designing an MIS is the extent to which computers are available and at what point in the data collection process they are introduced. Although your staff may still need to complete information collection forms manually, the information is transferred to a computer, which combines the data and ultimately generates reports.
A manual system may be more appropriate if your offices do not have computers, your budget is limited, or your project is relatively simple. An automated system may be preferred under opposite conditions, especially if you want to free your staff from aggregating tabulated data. Computers are more accurate in tabulating data, and a variety of software programs (e.g., Microsoft Excel and Access) are available when staff members can use them effectively. For example, a required data element in your total calculation for DOL is the total number of participants who enroll in your program during the current quarter. The system you design should allow your staff to enter individual information on clients during the quarter and produce a report that displays the number of participants who have enrolled in the program for that particular quarter.