By Rhonda Schwinabart, host staff
In spring 2021, the Chesapeake Watershed (CHWA) CESU launched a new cloud-based projects database hosted on AirTable. Designed by Katie Kline, a staff member at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Appalachian Laboratory (host institution), the new database makes use of recently verified and updated project data, streamlines the data entry process for staff and allows for “real-time” reporting for partners.
Launch timeline influenced by data validation process and entry needs
A number of factors influenced the decision to launch the new database this spring, including the timing of a recent data review. As part of the 2021 renewal process, the CHWA CESU underwent a full project data review with partners in fall 2020. This data review enabled staff to update and correct existing project data on record and to add missing project data where needed. As a result, the review provided the perfect opportunity to migrate validated, up-to-date data to a new database on a new platform.
A secondary factor in the launch decision involved the status of the old database. Previously, the CHWA CESU made use of an internally developed Microsoft-Access database that resided on a server at the host institution. This database was well over ten years old and had begun to show some early signs of declining performance. Additionally, adding or updating the data was a cumbersome process made more difficult by the fact that the database could only be accessed on-campus for assorted reasons, making it difficult for staff to update and utilize the database during the recent pandemic-related telework phase. The cloud-based solution provides a stable platform for the new database and allows staff to access the database much more easily at a distance when necessary.
Of the many improved features offered by the new CHWA CESU Projects Database the reporting function is probably the most relevant to partners. In the past, static pdf and spreadsheet reports were generated from the Access database on a quarterly and annual basis and manually uploaded to the website for federal managers and research partners to access as needed. These reports were often very quickly out-of-date and required detailed steps to search and sort.
Rather than generating these traditional static reports, the new database enables staff to create “report views” that remain linked to the database and update automatically when data are added or changed in the database. These views provide the same data access as the old reports but only need to be posted to the website one time. Viewers can easily search and sort the data they are viewing using drop down arrows embedded on each data column. These report views have been added to the CHWA CESU website and can be found at https://chwacesu.org/current-and-past-projects/.
The platform stability, cloud-based access and “real time” reporting offered by the new CHWA CESU database mean improved, more versatile data management, which will benefit the network long into the future.