TOC: About Interactions | Planning an Organization's Interactions | Planning Interactions | Interaction Definitions | Simple Interactions Versus Custom Interactions | Understanding Where Interaction Data is Stored | The Logical Data Model in a Nutshell
Understanding and Planning Interactions
An Interaction is a completely customizable data field or grouping of fields that can be associated with a contact in Metrix. Interactions can be used to track:
- Characteristics of a contact (e.g. intake eligibility, interests, associations)
- Role a contact performs (e.g. board member, committee membership)
- Activities (e.g. events attended, reports submitted)
- Communications (e.g. invitations, thank-you letters sent)
- Donations (e.g. monetary and in-kind donations, pledges, etc.)
Metrix uses Interactions to describe virtually any exchange, contact, or relationship between an organization and its contacts. There are no limits to the numbers of Interactions that can be associated with a contact. A major aspect of requirements-gathering involves determining what kinds of Interactions an organization needs. See Gathering Data Requirements.
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Planning an Organization's Interactions
The first step in the design process is to identify Interactions and gather the data. As you sort through the organization's data, custom Interactions appear as data that do not easily fit into the contact or location models. At this point, the data and requirements will also begin to suggest whether an Interaction will be simple or custom. In addition, it is likely that you will need to design new Interactions for which there is no existing data.
A good time to design custom Interactions is while you are reviewing and organizing the data for import, such as contacts, locations, etc. It is much easier to import custom data along with this other data than to do it later.
The Interaction begins as a cluster of related data. Often this has to do with departmental functions within an organization. When you have identified the organization's different Interactions, group them into conceptual or functional categories. You will need at least two levels of category; a third is available if you want it. Level-1 categories are the most general, and level-2 categories are sub-groups within the first-level categories. These groupings will help Metrix to organize your Interactions.
Figure: Sample Interactions with Two Levels of Organizational Categories
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Before you begin to setup Interactions within Metrix, we recommend that you and members of your organization take the following steps to develop your set of Interactions:
- Review the sample data that ships with Metrix to get some ideas.
- Bring together a group of people from your organization to brainstorm the ways that your organization interacts with its contacts. Ensure that you involve people from all departments. Keep a running list of all the ways you interact with your contacts; at this stage there are no right or wrong answers.
- Within the group, review your list of Interactions and begin to define the general categories of data your organization will track. Ask yourselves: What types of actions and activities will be tracked in this database? Will you be recording communications with your constituents? How do you want to categorize the types of people and organizations? Categorize your brainstormed list accordingly.
- You can now begin to pare this list down. Think about the information you need to query and report on, as this information you will definitely want to track using your Interaction. Some of the ways you interact with your contacts, though extremely valuable - may not need to be tracked in the database because you will not query or report on this piece of information. You should only track those data elements you will later need to retrieve.
- If you have not done so yet, decide on any second or third level categories. At this step, keep a keen eye on areas where you might want to aggregate like data. Categories are very useful in aggregating across sets of Interactions, ensure you use them wisely. Interaction categories can be used in queries. For example, if you wish to print a set of labels for any contact who has had an Interaction added for an event in the category, "Fundraising," you would create a Level 2 category describing the event.
- Circulate the final list, make any changes and then you are ready to begin setting up Interaction in your database.
- Discuss which fields in a simple Interaction will be standard. This will help to ensure that all Interactions will be accessible and easy for users to understand. For example, you could agree that all Interactions should minimally include the fields AddBy and AddDate, so that they can be queried based on data about their creation as well as specific custom data. If this is the case, then you add these fields for every simple Interaction.
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All Interactions are linked to Interaction Definitions. The Interaction Definition captures the title of the Interaction, and layers of organizational categories, to enable grouping for viewing, queries and reports. Metrix requires at least two levels of category. Level-1 categories are the most general, and level-2 categories are sub-groups within the first-level categories. This is helpful when running reports, filters or displaying data that all falls within a large category, such as "Volunteers."
In addition to naming and categorizing the Interaction, you also select the tables and fields that will be included in the definition. You can include an unlimited number of tables in an Interaction Definition. By default, the Metrix Interactions table will be included for any Interaction you create. If you are creating an Interaction that includes custom tables, they are added at the time that you create the Interaction Definition. Once you have added a table, you can then select multiple fields from the table. There are no limits on the number of tables that can be included.
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Simple Interactions Versus Custom Interactions
Simple Interactions have limited fields, and are appropriate for data that can be described in a single title and short note. Generally, basic Interactions are a word or phrase that are attached to a contact. As you can see, the title of the Interaction contains the relevant data and additional information can be added into a Note field for the Interaction. Simple Interactions are stored in a standard Interactions table (tblInteractions). Simple Interactions provide an easy way to flag contacts so an organization can easily identify subsets based on these flags. For example, a Simple Interaction such as "Major Contributor" or "Attended Seminar" could then be used to easily generate mailing lists for these contacts.
Generally simple Interactions are used to describe roles or simple characteristics. They are easily used in filters and queries. They are not suitable, however, for characteristics or activities that have additional, related information, such a start and end date. For example, while a simple Interaction seems appropriate for a characteristic such as "Membership Level," it would not be useful if you needed to capture the dates on which the membership changed and the expiration data for the member. Simple Interactions are also cumbersome for capturing information where there may be multiple instances of the same Interaction (e.g. Attended a Workshop, Volunteer Availability, Skills and Interests).
Custom Interactions are used to capture any type of characteristic, activity, or Interaction that goes beyond a one-line flag-style tag. This type of Interaction allows you to incorporate custom tables, and therefore capture virtually any related data that an organization needs. Custom Interactions can be designed entirely from within the Metrix environment, based on an organization's existing data that will be migrated into Metrix, or a combination of both.
Custom Interactions are ideal for capturing data that have a one-to-many relationship with the contacts. For example, an Interaction "Workshop Attendance" can be used to not only indicate that a contact has attended a workshop, but also to capture the individual dates of attendance for that workshop. Similarly, a Custom Interaction can be used for Interactions that contain many fields of data, such as a Client Profile or a Counseling Session.
Structurally, custom Interaction data is linked to the standard Interactions table (tblInteractions) . There are no limits in terms of the type of table that can be linked to the Metrix Interactions table, and this is where a build can be customized on a very granular level.
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Understanding Where Interaction Data is Stored
Using the following example, we will discuss the structure for storing Interaction data in Metrix. Below is an example of raw data, an Excel spreadsheet, containing data about contacts and membership. All contacts have first and last name fields, however, not all have membership data. In this case, the membership data would be incorporated into Metrix using a custom Interaction. Only those contacts with membership data would also have a membership Interaction.
Figure: Raw Contact and Membership Data
In order to store this membership data, we will create a table: tblCustomMembership, to hold the Interaction data related to membership.
The use of the custom table essentially extends the capacity for data storage related to this Interaction (tblInteraction) . An Interaction record is still created, but that Interaction is also linked to the related data in the custom table (tblCustomMembership) .
Figure: Custom Interactions Extend the Range of Data Captured
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The Logical Data Model in a Nutshell
Each instance of an Interaction is stored in a table (tblInteractions) that links it to the appropriate contact and to a record in the Interaction Definitions table (tblInteractionDefinitions) . A basic Interaction's data resides completely in the Interaction Definition.
In a custom Interaction, tblInteractions serves as a link between tblInteractionDefinitions and the custom data table (tblCustomMembership) , for example. When the user attaches a new custom Interaction to a contact, an entry is created in tblInteractions, and a corresponding entry is created in the custom table corresponding to that Interaction Definition.
Figure: Table Relationships of a Contact with a Custom Interaction
The relationship between tblInteractions and the corresponding custom table is "one-to-one." A single Interaction can have zero or one corresponding records in the custom table; a record in a custom Interaction table must have one (and only one) corresponding record in the Interactions table.
For more information on creating basic Interactions, see Creating Simple Interactions. For more information on creating custom Interactions, begin with Planning Custom Interactions.
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