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Hubbub is an environmental charity that brings businesses, organisations, local authorities and community groups together to create campaigns that make it easier for everyone to make choices that are good for the environment.

Use this Guide if you would like to collect and store data about volunteer or group activities in a central database. In you can use automation and forms to let people update their own records. This can help make sure that information in the database is always current. It could also reduce your workload, and give people more control over their data.

Steps to using Airtable to collect and keep up-to-date information about volunteer or group activities

Carry out an audit of your current data collection and storage.

  • What data do you hold?

  • Where is your data stored?

  • Who has access to it?

  • How do your staff access the data? For example on a mobile device, in the office, at home?

  • How often is it updated?

  • Are there any gaps? For example some records have email addresses attached to them but others don’t.

  • If data is stored in multiple places, how is it kept up to date everywhere?

  • What kind of reports do you produce?

Data security and privacy are very important. Make sure to review your process against General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidance too.

Hubbub is an environmental charity. They coordinate a network of over 500 (and counting) community fridges around the UK. Fridges are run by community groups in schools, community centres, and shops.

Hubbub collects a variety of data from the community groups such as contact details, community fridge opening times and access information. They also collect important documents such as risk assessment forms.

This data enables Hubbub to:

  • keep in contact with each community group

  • ensure compliance with health and safety laws

  • promote their activities

  • measure the impact of the Community Fridge Network (CFN).

As the CFN scaled across the UK, the team at Hubbub struggled to keep this information accurate and up to date because it was stored in several different places, using different legacy systems/ software. Some data was missing. They were also spending a lot of time chasing community groups for documents and information.

Hubbub reviewed their whole data collection process. They decided to explore ways to make it more efficient for both staff and community members, and improve the quality and relevance of the data they collected.

When you have a clear picture of what data you have and how it is handled, think about what data you really need. Is there information that you need that you don’t have? Is information being collected without a clear purpose?

Examine what parts of the current process take the most time, or tend to cause problems. For example, copying data from a spreadsheet into a database. Think about whether any repetitive tasks could be done automatically that might reduce your workload.

Use these insights to create a detailed plan for your new data collection process. You might like to make a visual map or flowchart to show the flow of data and different points of access.

As well as making a plan to meet their internal data needs the Hubbub team tried to view things from the perspective of their stakeholders, too. They created a ‘journey map’ to identify all the points where community groups would need to access their data or supply information to Hubbub.

Use your plan to review different digital database tools and find the one that suits your needs best.

Think about:

  • your available budget (both upfront and ongoing)

  • how many people will use the software and what they will need to access

  • how it will integrate with your other systems

  • whether you want to create forms

  • which tasks you could automate

  • how much support is available.

Popular database software includes CiviCRM, Apricot, Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics, as well as Airtable.

It’s important to understand your needs and obligations when you handle data. For example, different software offers different levels of security, and the servers where your data will be stored might be outside the UK or EU.

You can also use NCVO's plan for choosing new tools or software.

The Hubbub team chose Airtable to help them collect and store data about the Community Fridge Network because it:

  • was affordable

  • is flexible and can be customised

  • has lots of tutorials and guides

  • includes forms as well as a database

  • can be integrated with other systems

  • can be used to set up automatic actions (which would save time and money)

  • allowed them to store their data on servers in the UK.

Turn the list of data needs that you have identified into a list of specific information that you will collect and store. For example, if you need a way to contact people, you might create a field in the database for email addresses, or phone numbers, or both, if you need both.

In Airtable, create a new blank base and a new table. In the table, add a column for each of the fields you have listed. Think about the type of data you will collect in each field and choose a field type that matches it. For example multiple choice, or a free text box.

Hubbub had specific types of information to collect from community groups. For example, they needed to collect a completed risk assessment form from each community fridge before they launched. The format would typically be a Word document or PDF. That meant they needed to create a field for a current risk assessment form, and choose ‘File’ as the field type so that people could upload a document or PDF.

Airtable allows you to create forms connected to your database, which can enable people to submit or update their own data.

Airtable’s form builder uses the fields from your database to create the form’s fields and labels. You can customise the form by hiding fields you don’t want to appear, adding instructions, and marking certain questions as ‘required’.

Another useful feature of Airtable is that it allows you to set up automatic tasks, called ‘automations’. That could be something simple, like sending an email notification when somebody fills out a form. Or it could be a complex chain of actions which occur in response to a ‘trigger’.

The team at Hubbub wanted to support people to manage their own data, so they created forms that community groups could use to easily submit information, and see what had already been submitted.

Although Airtable allows you to create forms, Hubbub used Jotform because it offered them more options. They used an API to connect the two platforms so that data could be shared from one to the other.

Hubbub used automations in Airtable to reduce staff workload and help to keep their data accurate and up to date.

For example, because community groups need to regularly upload documents like the risk assessment form, Hubbub created an automation to help remind them. If the data field for a document is still empty 30 days after it was requested (these conditions are the trigger) then a reminder email will automatically be sent to the group’s contact email address (this is the action).

It’s important to check that your database, forms, and automations are working well.

It can be helpful to import some data into your database which you can use to test all the functions. It can also help you test the data migration process. Invite colleagues to try using the new system and listen to their feedback.

If there are other people who will use it too - for example volunteers, or clients - see if you can test the relevant parts with them as well. For example, ask a client to try filling out one of the new forms. Can they use it easily? Does it do everything they need it to?

Think about how people will get help if they are struggling, or something doesn’t work. It is a good idea to produce some training materials or step-by-step guidance. Make sure the whole process is recorded somewhere, so that if a key staff member is away or moves on someone else can pick it up.

Hubbub created a ‘sandbox’ version of their new database to explore what Airtable could do. They used the sandbox version to test the different functions. It also gave members of the team a chance to learn how to use the new system without working with live data.

They have created video walkthroughs to support colleagues to learn the new system, alongside Airtable’s existing tutorials and knowledge base.

Hubbub have encouraged community groups to use the new system, and upload and access their information themselves. But they always have an alternative option available, so anyone who is struggling can contact the team or send information by email instead.

Gather all the existing data identified in Step 1 into a single spreadsheet. Make sure the spreadsheet columns match the fields in the new database, and the right data is in the right place.

Take the opportunity to ‘clean’ the data before moving it into the new database. That means:

  • removing duplicates

  • filling in gaps

  • making sure all records are accurate and up to date

  • deleting old records which are no longer needed.

This can be a lot of work, but it will save time later. Plan to regularly clean your data in future.

When the spreadsheet is ready, import it into your new database. You may need to repeat this step a few times if you have a lot of data.

Hubbub are gradually cleaning and migrating all their data to their new system.

Further information