mellowtigger: (wild things)
[personal profile] mellowtigger
I have my exit interview with Human Resources on Monday, and Wednesday is my last day. My thoughts are on the great things that could be done at AHS but that I won't be around to see them done.

I was intending to write in detail about a few complaints that came to mind. 1) Our job webpage shows 19 openings today, but the job webpage for the slightly smaller Oregon Humane Society only shows 4 openings. 2) Management never released the results of last year's employee survey. That omission sounds bad in itself. 3) I keep insisting that AHS needs a data integration specialist, but it must be in a work group that devotes long spans of uninterrupted time to its tasks. 4) Our data sources are poor quality, and the market seems unable to create a great solution for our needs. I have suggested for years that we form a coalition with other large humane societies and devote effort to creating an open-source solution that all of us can use.

Instead, though, I'll focus on my realization that AHS is a primary source of vast amounts of data. They aren't using it or seeing any potential uses, and their myopia makes me sad. The AHS mission is to "engage the hearts, hands, and minds of the community to help animals." We could do so many things to fulfill this mission.
  • Collect animal blood types, then offer a service to notify owners of animals with specific blood types if someone needs blood donated for surgery for their animal.
  • Publish long-term statistics on lost animals, so we know what seasons are most likely to see animals wander (and owners can take precautions). We would also know what typical quantity goes missing each year and in what regions, so we could immediately dispel false tales about people seizing animals for food or for combat.
  • Collect information on injured wildlife, so we can identify potential changes (posted signs on roads?) that would reduce animal suffering. Are there long-term trends of urbanization or climate change that affect wildlife injury rate or severity?
  • Offer to collect information submitted by vets (no government agency does this service, I think) so we can post bulletins if a contagious disease cluster is showing up near particular dog parks. People could exercise their dogs solo for a week or two instead of using the park.
  • Mine data about surrendered animals to look for cycles and changes. For instance, does data support the opinion that global warming in Minnesota has changed the cat breeding season here? Is one animal breed (or gender) more likely to escape the house, defend its territory, or develop health problems? How do economic times affect surrender rates or abuse rates?
  • Mine data about adopters to look for patterns. Are ethnic or financial groups adopting particular breeds? Maybe we need to launch education campaigns that expand human behaviors.
  • Mine data about euthanasia for behavioral problems. Are there any commonalities that could be addressed with education campaigns for owners that could prevent their pets from reaching the point of being nuisances or dangerous?
  • Mine data about our spay/neuter surgeries for patterns. Are there any complications associated with particular breeds, ages, or weights?
All this and more. We have databases focused on animal surrenders and adoptions, volunteer management, humane investigation, animal training, classroom education, call center counseling, animal boarding, and the phone system itself. We should be tying all of these resources together into a cohesive whole that we can use to query for patterns too large or small for us to see as individual humans.

Management sees value only in those evaluations that might increase the dollars raised from donations. I told them that data is valuable, but they misinterpreted my use of that word. They recently moved a database person to the Marketing group, so this trend will only worsen. I notice, for instance, that the data privacy statement that I created was never posted on our webpage. Without me advocating for it, I doubt that it ever will be used.  Now that I'm leaving, they don't have anyone who can tie the various connections between databases that have nothing to do with fundraising... that instead are related to the welfare of the animals themselves and the human community. It makes me sad.

Before I go, I hope to leave a parting gift to the employees of AHS.  Earlier this year, I analyzed 4 months of phone data and found that at my site location, we listened to 3,922 public announcement pages totaling 10 hours of time.  I suspect that for a whole calendar year, those annoying pages would amount to more than 10,000 interruptions to daily work routine and more than 3 whole work days of lost time.  Maybe some hard numbers will convince management to crack down on this wasteful use of the p.a. system, since employee complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Data, as I keep insisting, is valuable.
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