Automating report generation to improve the work of World Shops

The Challenge

Weltladen Dachverband

The Weltladen Dachverband (Weltladen Umbrella Association) is the central network of the World Shops and Action Groups for Fair Trade at the national level. It is organised as an association and has its office in Mainz. Around 460 of the approx. 900 World Shops in Germany are members of the World Shop Umbrella Association. It supports World Shops in all areas of their work, develops information, campaigns and training materials, offers further training and organises the annual World-Shop-Fachtage, the largest meeting for World Shops and their partners. With its inspection and monitoring instruments, it also makes a valuable contribution to the credibility of the World Shops. (“translated from here")

The Weltladen Umbrella Association (de: Weltladen Dachverband) and the Eine Welt Netzwerk Bayern (in the following only Weltladen Umbrella Association) conduct surveys of their members - individual World Shops - every year in order to better understand their situation and needs. The members are also to be given useful feedback regarding their position in comparison to the other members / shops.

The purpose of the survey is to provide individualized feedback to each World Shop that participates in the survey. The report contains various plots and descriptive statistics that allow each Weltladen to assess its situation in comparison to other shops. Before the CorrelAid project, the individual reports had been created manually with Excel and Word. With several hundred participating members, this was a very time-consuming and error-prone process, which was difficult to manage by the mostly volunteer staff of the Weltladen Umbrella Association.

Hence, the Weltladen Umbrella Association wanted to automate this process. Furthermore, statistical analyses were conducted to reveal additional correlations in the structure amongst the members of the Weltladen Umbrella Association.

The Data

The data was based on an online survey of the individual World Shops. The data set included a several hundred participating shops and several dozens of variables.

The data was exported from the online survey tool as .csv files and made available to the CorrelAid team. During the project, the data was stored exclusively on the Weltladen Assocation’s systems and CorrelAid servers to prevent unauthorised access.

The Solution

CorrelAid was able to help the Weltladen Umbrella Association team by automating the manual and therefore error-prone and very time-consuming creation of the individual reports. For the automation, the freely accessible statistics software R and implicitly the text typesetting system Latex (to create tables within the reports) were used.

In addition, suggestions for the optimization of the questionnaires were developed and implemented over the course of the project.

In order to ensure a long-term effect of the project, care was taken to enable the Weltladen Umbrella Association’s team to carry out the report creation process themselves in the future. To this end, the scripts developed by CorrelAid were discussed in detail and in person with staff from the Weltladen Assocation and their implementation was tested extensively. In addition, the code was meaningfully commented. The project team was also available to answer questions, an offer which the Weltladen Umbrella Association has repeatedly made use of. The implementation on the local machine of the Weltladen staff is now running smoothly.

Technical solution approach

The data were read in and wrangled with R (data quality control, aggregation, creation of new variables). Descriptive evaluations were carried out for all shops as well as for the individual shops and their respective peer groups. The results were needed for the individualized reports which were generated with Rmarkdown. Tables in the reports were created with the R package kableExtra, the graphics with ggplot2. The whole process can now be started for all participating Weltladen shops and runs automatically.

The Impact

Thanks to the automation approach, the Weltladen Umbrella Association can now create reports more easily, on a more regular basis and with much less effort. The validity of the data has also been improved.

In addition, the project has given the Weltladen Umbrella Association a better understanding of the general approach to data-driven processes and decision making. For example, the staff now knows that when designing surveys they need to consider the potential impact of design decisions on the quality and analysis of the data. Finally, the Weltladen Assocation was introduced to the tools used and their possibilities.

On the other side, the CorrelAid volunteers were able to gain a better understanding of the needs and internal workings of NGOs in general and the World Shops in particular. The project also allowed them to learn a lot from each other, both with regards to tools and collaboration.


Podcast episode about the project (in German)

CorrelAid Team

Gideon May

Johannes Rabenschlag

Raphael Riege

Stefan Boschenriedter