Make your data dictionaries work for you
Required Profile: Superuser
June 01, 2022
As a Borealis Superuser, you have the ability to configure and manage the data dictionaries for your organization. This month we’ll look at some tips you might not know, and some good practices to help you get the most value from your data dictionaries.
What are Data Dictionaries? How do I use them?
Your data dictionaries are the definitions and values used in your dropdown menus.
To view them, click on “Configuration” in the blue navigation menu on the left side of the page, then select “Data Dictionaries.” You may find it helpful to filter the list in order to review the values for a specific dictionary or form.
You’ll notice that certain dictionaries are marked as “Read-only.” Since these are used by the application, the values can’t be changed. Additionally, any values in the normal lists that are marked as “System” can’t be edited. Any items marked as “Normal” can be modified as needed, and you can also create new items.
But there’s more to managing data dictionaries than simply adding and removing values! You can also merge items, activate and deactivate options, change the order, assign colors, and create tooltips to tell your team what a field is meant to be used for. Let’s look at how these features can help you get more value from your data dictionaries.
Merge and structure your values
Using subject categories effectively is the key to reporting on and analyzing stakeholder interactions. We recommend that you keep an eye out for values that are overused; these options may be too vague, which can confuse users.
Categorization tends to evolve over time, so you may find that you don't need as many options as you had originally planned, or the information isn't serving you as you hoped. In some cases, values may be split unnecessarily or even overlap. To address the problem, you may wish to merge certain categories to get better insights from your data.
Please be aware that merging values will affect historical data. Let's say you have two overlapping categories, and you decide to merge "Forest" into "Forestry." By doing so, any existing records that were tagged with "Forest" will be changed to "Forestry."
If you do not want historical data to be affected, you can choose to deactivate the "Forest" value and leave "Forestry" active. This way, users won't be able to select "Forest" anymore, but any historical data tagged with "Forest" will remain the same.
You may also find it helpful to create a hierarchy to structure your values.
If you need to change values in bulk, batch actions can be a real-time saver. You can access them through the main lists or custom widgets.
Change the order of options in a dropdown list
The entries in your dropdown lists are displayed alphabetically by default, but they don’t have to stay that way. You can specify an order for list items to be sure that common choices appear at the top. If, for example, a certain value is the most relevant for your organization, you can force it to appear first on the list by entering “1” in the order field. Likewise, if a value isn’t used very often but still needs to be included in the list, you can enter “999” to make sure that option appears at the bottom.
Associate standard colors with values
In general, colors are randomly assigned to values in widgets. To avoid confusion, it's a good idea to assign these colors consistently. For example, you can choose to associate the value "Water" with the color blue. Or in the case of risk assessment, you may want to associate high risk with red, moderate risk with yellow, and low risk with green. Using standard colors this way helps ensure visual consistency across different widgets and reports.
The Borealis interface includes preselected color suggestions in most dropdown menus to simplify the process. Using the color system recommended by Borealis is beneficial for two reasons:
- You don't have to pick a new color for every new value (which can be particularly helpful if you're not the only person at your organization creating new values), and
- The pre-embedded color palette in Borealis is intended to ensure that colors used in chart widgets work well together.
Create tooltips to guide data entry
You can choose to add a tooltip to any field to help users understand what information is expected and how to enter it in the desired format. When users mouse over the field, the description will appear as a popup message. This is a great way to take the guesswork out of data entry and help ensure data quality.
Don’t forget, the better your data dictionaries are, the less time you’ll need to spend creating other tools, like user guides. Be sure to review and update your data dictionaries periodically as your system use evolves.
Do even more with the Corporate View add-on
Corporate reporting can be time consuming when you need to aggregate data from sites in different regions with different requirements and needs. If your organization uses the Corporate View add-on, you'll have some additional options.
- For corporate lists, values can only be set at the corporate level. These can be the same for all sites or different from one site to the next.
- Non-corporate lists can be managed at both the corporate and site levels. Each site can add, edit, delete, and deactivate values for their own location, but they do not have access to the values for other sites. The corporate level has a global view of the lists and values for all sites, which lets them help individual sites manage their data.
(For more information about managing data dictionaries with the Corporate View add-on, check out this article in our Help Center.)
Good Practices for Data Dictionaries
To keep your data dictionaries as helpful as possible, it’s a good practice to review them on an annual basis. Check to be sure that descriptions are clear and practical for your needs. Be sure to review the categorization and tooltips as well as the actual dropdown menu items.
There’s a system widget named “Communications – Most used subject categories” that displays the top 5 most-used subject categories used to tag your communications. You can use this widget to review your categorization to see if your existing categories might be too broad or too narrow. In either case, this can potentially create confusion for users and affect your data quality, so you may wish to make adjustments accordingly.
This widget is used in the "SE - Overall: Data quality follow-up" system report, which you may also wish to explore. It can provide some interesting insights!
To learn more about best practices for Borealis Superusers, be sure to check out this article.
End of Legacy Interface
Don’t forget that the old Borealis interface will be discontinued on June 30th! For now, users are automatically directed to the new version when they log in, but they still have the option to switch back to the old version as needed. Going forward, new features and improvements will only be made in the new interface, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with that version now!
Here are some materials you can share with your team to help them with the transition:
- A video introducing the new interface.
- A detailed article listing the changes.
- An FAQ in our Help Center to answer common questions.
You can also contact your Customer Success Advisor if you need help with the transition.
We’ve just added a list of upcoming Borealis events in our Help Center, and we’ll update the page regularly as new events are planned. Be sure to bookmark it and check back often to see what we have in the works!