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Commonwealth ChartCart Service Provides Facts and Statistics to Go


The Commonwealth Fund is learning that sometimes a little goes a long way.

While the foundation is known for publishing more than 100 thoughtful, in-depth reports each year about complex health policy issues, many of the researchers and policymakers the Fund is trying to reach are eager for quick access to some of the salient facts and figures from these publications.

So to help make it easier for those working on health-related issues, the foundation offers what it calls its ChartCart service.  It’s an online library that contains more than 1,600 charts and tables from the foundation’s vast catalog of publications. Visitors to the Commonwealth Fund Web site can download a single chart or create a PowerPoint of charts from Fund publications on a variety of health policy topics.

Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis, Ph.D., came up with the basic idea for the service, said Barry Scholl, vice president for communications and publishing.  He said that Davis, who relies heavily on the Commonwealth Fund Web site to prepare her own presentations, suggested that others might also appreciate a tool to help find and pull together the charts from the foundation’s publications.

Because the Fund publishes all its publications electronically and posts them on its Web site, it is easy for the foundation to extract tables and charts from them and put the figures into a searchable database. The more than 1,600 charts are organized into over 70 collections. The charts and data are also organized into nearly 40 topics and are searchable as well.

That means, for example, with a few mouse clicks, a visitor can find a downloadable chart on health care coverage, another on health outcomes, or any of the subjects the foundation has studied and written about.

“People seem to really appreciate the ChartCart,” Scholl says. “We get very nice feedback and e-mails about it.”

All charts contain date and source information as well as the Commonwealth Fund logo. Although some charts are removed from the ChartCart when more current information is available, most remain for people looking for historical data.

Maintaining the Chart Cart typically takes a couple of hours every few weeks but  is rarely “a big burden,” says Amanda Jo Greep, communications associate.

Scholl says that the Commonwealth Fund markets the ChartCart at conferences and highlights a chart in each issue of a new biweekly newsletter sent to its e-mail subscribers. Currently, Greep says, ChartCart draws around 10,000 views each month and demand for the charts from major publications drive most of the traffic to ChartCart.

For those considering a ChartCart-like service for their foundations, Scholl suggests the first step is to ask site users if this is something they want and will use. “We do a lot of user surveying,” Scholl says.  People say they like the ChartCart, he says, because it gives them access to data quickly and easily without having to search through longer reports.

More recently the Commonwealth Fund created a version of its ChartCart that’s only available to staff. In addition to the charts available to the public, the internal database contains charts staff create or need for their own presentations.

In the past, staff saved presentations on shared drives, and there’s still some resistance to uploading them to the internal service so others can access them via the Web. “Old habits die hard,” Scholl said

–Emily Culbertson

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