What administrative data is and why you should use it

When we are setting out to evaluate or report on our programs, we often assume that we have to create new data, generally by going back to our participants and having them complete surveys, questionnaires, or even tests.

However, there is often a huge trove of information that already exists in your intake system, attendance records, and other datasets. This is the data that is created in the course of managing your program. It exists in the smallest and largest of organizations, in some cases creating huge databases, such as social security records or tax records. This is called administrative data — data that’s created primarily for administration of a program rather than created specifically for research.

Elementary school kids sitting around teacher in a classroom. Educational assessments and attendance records are good source of administrative data for program evaluation


Your program’s administrative data might be in a database. It might also be in your intake coordinator’s file cabinet and in your teacing staff’s attendance binders. It will take the form of case notes, assessments, attendance records, intake forms, and payment records. As a program evaluator, there are several reasons to find and use your adminstrative data for internal evaluation as much as you can. First, it’s the least burdensome to your participants. If there is no need for them to complete a new form, then it’s better not to use their time that way. 

Second, in some cases, it will be more complete. Participants may or may not complete a survey, but it’s likely that every single individual who is enrolled in your program has completed an enrollment form.

Some examples of what you could do with administrative data would be to understand whether attendance at your program differs by age, or gender; whether graduation from your program differes by age or gender; whether some participants are receiving more services or utilizing more staff time than others; or whether participants in different programs hit milestones at different rates. 

Any assessments that case managers or educators complete with your program participants can become a very useful source of data. For example, a tutoring program might assess its participants’ reading level periodically. The EmPath Working Group shares a very useful template for assessing program participants’ well-being in multiple areas of their lives. Many programs have similar tempates that allow staff to assess their participants well-being at their check-in meetings. If you document their findings and the dates of the assessments, you can perform some very interesting analyses about the progress that your participants are making through your program. 

Clearly, just as with survey data there might be administrative data that is sensitive and should never be presented at the individual level. It may be ok to present it at an aggregated level, and it is always ok to use your aggregated data internally to make decisions about how your program can better serve your community.



Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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