“We run the report three times and get three different results.”

"We run the report three times and get three different results."

"We run the same report three times and get different results."

In my 21 years of consulting, I've probably heard this (or something similar) dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

What the user is usually saying is that when they run two different reports or queries that are called the same thing (e.g., "All Members"), the result set is different. The perception is that the data is bad or the software has a bug. But what's really happening is they are running two different reports, with different selection criteria behind it. While both reports are labeled "All Members," they are actually using different criteria, and thus getting different results.

This problem is widespread among associations of all sizes. The challenge is twofold:

  1. We need our queries and reports to be completely transparent. It has to be absolutely clear to the user what data the report is looking at and outputting.
  2. The "catalog" of reports and queries needs to be curated and cleaned up consistently and frequently.

As data managers, we need to be better at both of these things.

A timeless challenge of data management is the perception that the system or the data (or both!) is bad. When staff believes that running the same report three times produces different results, you've got a BIG problem on your hands. You have to work at keeping your queries and reports as clean as the data itself.

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