How to Become Data-Driven During a DSP Staffing Crisis

High DSP turnover makes it difficult to collect quality data. But providers have the power to make changes that will help them operate in a data-driven way.

Back in March, the SETWorks team met with a group of executives and leaders of disability service agencies.  


As we discussed the state of the industry, organizations’ challenges, and strategies for success, we asked the group whether they consider their organizations to be data-driven.


“How can we be data-driven when the people who input the data have a 50% turnover rate?” one CFO said, and several other participants nodded their heads in agreement. 

A real and growing problem

Without a doubt, the DSP staffing crisis is a huge challenge. But it’s not a new problem for disability service agencies, or one that will be solved easily. SETWorks Client Success Manager Jocelyn Bright recalls conversations about staff shortages and high turnover nearly a decade ago when she worked for an IDD organization. 


Clearly, the DSP crisis isn’t going away. And COVID-19 has only made the problem worse. That means disability service agencies will have to find ways to adapt and become data-driven in spite of staffing issues.

How is the DSP staffing crisis impacting efforts to become data-driven?

The challenge, of course, is collecting data. How do you ensure that new staff are collecting the right types of data in the right format? And how do you focus on improving your programs when you’re spending all your time cleaning the data and correcting mistakes? A revolving door of DSPs makes it difficult to achieve consistent data quality. 


When data inputs are poor, data outputs suffer — or to put it bluntly, “garbage in, garbage out“. 


The end result is that, in spite of their efforts, leaders still don’t have access to the information they need to make strategic decisions. And the more staff turnover an organization has, the worse this problem will become. 


The lack of progress can be discouraging. But putting off the conversation or giving up on becoming data-driven isn’t really an option. Given how important data is to individual outcomes — especially as the industry transitions to value-based care — it’s crucial that organizations find solutions to operate in a data-driven way regardless of the staffing crisis.

What can providers do to address the problem?

The good news is that the same tactics that work for becoming data-driven also apply during a staffing crisis. It all comes down to a few basic principles: crafting a well-defined data strategy, developing your team’s data literacy skills, and providing effective tools to manage and use data. 


One way providers can ensure they get consistent data is by clearly outlining the types of data that need to be collected, who will be responsible for collecting it, and how it is collected. This can be as simple as creating a one page cheat sheet that tells DSPs how to fill out a progress note, for example. 


Having a dedicated quality assurance (QA) team member at your agency can help. A QA person can help implement controls and practices to ensure data is entered consistently. And, they can review the data periodically to uncover data entry errors and identify ways to improve data collection processes. 


Not every agency will be able to allocate the resources to hiring a QA person, of course. But for those who can afford it, a QA person can provide much-needed stability in your data environment during periods of high turnover. 


Download our free guide, “5 Ways to Become a Data-Driven Organization” 


Agencies can also tap external resources to support their data efforts. In Missouri, for example, the Department of Mental Health Division of Developmental Disabilities offers a tiered support program focused on “helping organizations develop systems to support positive practices for improved services”. Check your state’s resources to see if similar programs exist that are designed to provide evidence-based consultation and training. 


Providers can also network with others in their state to share ideas and learn from one another — something our Washington customers have dubbed “coopetition” (cooperation + competition). As difficult as it is to deal with the staffing crisis, other agencies are in the same boat and can often share advice and resources. 


Naturally, technology can make becoming data-driven easier. By providing standardized data entry tools and workflows, providers can ensure that even new trainees accurately input information. Automated validation and error checking adds another layer of assurance; for example, by preventing DSPs from submitting notes without a signature. 


Before using SETWorks, supported employment agency Project HIRE relied on its legacy software system to collect progress notes. Director Adam Kubler says it took a long time to get new DSPs up to speed. “It used to be such a chore to get people into the old system,” recalls Adam. 


Today, Project HIRE uses SETWorks IDD software to manage its documentation. SETWorks’ simple user interface means employees can start entering notes on their first day. Not only does this reduce the burden of training, it also prevents gaps in data collection during the onboarding process that can ultimately impact data quality.

Turning a crisis into an opportunity

The DSP staffing crisis is a direct factor that impacts your efforts to collect and use data. However, following a few basic data management practices can help you operate in a data-driven way. 


In turn, many organizations find that having a well-documented, streamlined data collection process and tools can actually improve employee onboarding and empower new DSPs. 


At SETWorks, we’re a team of disability service experts with a passion for data and analytics. To learn more about becoming data-driven, download our free ebook, “5 Ways to Become a Data-Driven Organization”And, if you are interested in learning more about becoming data-driven with SETWorks, email us at

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