Giving Compass’ Take:
• Stanford Social Innovation Review reports on an education nonprofit that needed to find better ways to use data in order to increase their efficacy.
• This serves as a lesson to all: Use numbers that help the ground operation, rather than filling out items on a report. This may require a close, self-reflective look at how one’s organization processes and distributes data.
In 2014, City Year — the well-known national education nonprofit that leverages young adults in national service to help students and schools succeed — was outgrowing the methods it used for collecting, managing, and using performance data. They did not prioritize data properly.
City Year’s focus on data wasn’t targeted to address the very different kinds of decisions that each staff member — from the front office to the front lines — needed to make. Its strategy served national-level needs well — where data were used for broad, aggregated, periodic tracking to inform reports to funders and evaluate overall program effectiveness.
But reports and dashboards built to respond to top-down view requirements didn’t provide the operational insights the majority of users needed. In the field, reporting wasn’t optimized to support the work of City Year’s 3,000 AmeriCorps members, who were providing direct academic and social-emotional supports to students in nearly 300 schools.
Many organizations create impact reports designed to satisfy external demands from donors, but these reports have little relevance to the operational or strategic choices the organizations face every day, much less address harder-to-measure, system-level outcomes.
To drive better outcomes, [City Year] needed access to a consistent, high-quality data set, on a more frequent basis, and in a format that would help them monitor an individual student’s progress and make decisions about that student’s intervention needs. That real-time, on-the-ground decision-making is fundamental to City Year’s ability to improve educational outcomes for students and schools. Yet delivery and evaluation of services lacked a consistent data set, and measurement structures and standards didn’t support this core activity.
Read the full article on how to prioritize data by Tracie Neuhaus and Jarasa Kanok at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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