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Using Community-Level Data to Drive Efforts for Collective Impact

I will leave the foreword to this post as best stated by Jeff Edmonson, most recent recipient of the American Express NGEN Leadershp Award and  Founder of the Strive Network: “The big vision of Strive is to support every child, from cradle to career. And in order to get every child to succeed from cradle to career, it’s going to come down to something relatively unremarkable: data and how we use it.” Read on for a leading example of how we can turn data into change for our communities.

Data-informed decision making is a central tenet to collective impact and building the civic infrastructure. Data can serve as the translator when it comes to understanding what is really happening in a community. In the words of one prominent local Strive partner, “People are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”

There are three ways that that an anchor institution, or backbone organization can play in promoting the use of data-informed decision making: 1) promoting the use of community-level data, 2) promoting collaborative data management systems, and 3) promoting continuous improvement and collaborative action.

All three are critical roles that need to be played in a community, and in today’s post I’d like to focus on the first one – promoting the use of community-level data. We put out the first Strive report card in 2008 and the aim of this effort was to provide a catalyst for discussion in our community about the current state of education.

By reviewing trends over time, we can highlight where we are having the greatest impact and where we may need to focus more energy along the cradle-to-career journey. The report highlights trends on key community-level outcome indicators across three cities, five school districts, and multiple post-secondary partners.

The eight core outcome indicators to be collected, reported on, and analyzed are:

  • Percent of children assessed as ready for school at kindergarten
  • Fourth grade reading achievement
  • Eighth grade math achievement
  • High school graduation
  • ACT composite score
  • Percent of students enrolling in college
  • Post-secondary Retention
  • Post-secondary completion

Strive developed these indicators with a data committee comprised of experts from the community and various institutions that are represented in the indicators. One of the first efforts we undertook was to develop criteria for selecting indicators. Since the original list of potential indicators that we started out with was between 75-100, these criteria were essential to help us determine which indicators to include and which to leave out.

Two of the most important are that the indicators be population based, representing conditions and the community level and not at the programmatic level; and that the indicators be a valid measure of concepts outlined on the Strive Student’s Roadmap to Success, which includes critical benchmarks and key transition years from birth through college and into a career. The full list of criteria can be found in the 2011 Partnership Report.

Strive is also creating tools to help any community put together their own report card and publish it to print and/or web. The Community Impact Report Card (CIRC) provides a turnkey online platform to help communities think through the report card process – managing, visualizing and reporting outcome indicators that the local community has identified and agreed upon. CIRC is the only tool currently available that directly supports the process of building a cradle to career community education report card. CIRC launched at the Strive convening in Milwaukee on September 28, 2012.

The tool also helps communities think through how to structure specific measures under big overarching goals. The foundational elements in the Community Impact Report Card are Goals, Outcomes, Indicators, and Measures.

  •  Goals are the big aspirations that must be achieved to realize the partnership’s vision (Example: Every Child will be Prepared for School).
  •  Outcomes are points along the cradle to career continuum that are key levers to be moved in order to achieve the vision and goals (Example: Kindergarten Readiness).
  •  Indicators are established measures that are used to track progress toward the outcomes and goals (Example: Percent of children who are assessed as ready for school at kindergarten).
  •  Measures are the specific way in which an indicator is measured, including the calculation method and/or assessment (Example: Percent of children who are assessed as ready for school at kindergarten, Kindergarten Readiness Assessment-Literacy (KRA-L)).

Being able to effectively collect and communicate population level indicators is essential to helping steer the overall work of a large collective impact effort.

They can become a set of shared measures that multiple cross sector stakeholders have their eye on together and can work together to make measurable change.

We are now seeing incredible momentum behind “data,” but, it is possible that the topic remains relatively unremarkable for the wider public, except where it counts: impact.