Transparency of Data
Invested in building state and local capacity to share and use data
The Memorial Fund's belief in the power of data to tell a story that moves people to action dates back to Children First, a prior initiative. Supporting communities and advocates to use data to diagnose problems, develop strategies, and highlight issues has been a key investment throughout Discovery.
These investments have focused on making data understandable, accessible and usable for parents, providers, advocates, and other community members. This involves making sure they have the skills and tools to use data to tell a story about the issues that matter to them. It also involves making the data accessible by building relationships with entities that produce or house data, and finding ways to share and update it. This work requires significant investment, both in funding and social capital, as well as broad based partnerships.
Supporting Community Capacity
Providing data to parents and community members in a clear and understandable format has evolved tremendously since 2000 - from print versions of data guides, to dozens of spreadsheets of relevant data sets posted on the Discovery website, to the internet-based Early Childhood Portal, which provides users with interactive tools and access to numerous data sets.
Along with the tools, the community capacity to obtain and analyze data has evolved. Over the course of Discovery, community collaboratives were offered training and supports to build their capacity to understand and use data: Stand alone workshops; intensive training in the use of Results Based Accountability (RBA); and data clinics where featured speakers from state agencies work with communities on using and presenting specific data.
In 2009, Connecticut Voices for Children (CT Voices) released its first annual Early Care and Education Progress Report, providing a snapshot of child wellbeing in Connecticut. A useful by-product of the report was the fact that it highlights what data are needed to support a comprehensive childhood system.
Through the Memorial Fund's involvement in The Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR), communities gained access to the Results Scorecard, an online tool to help them organize and present their data, as well as share it with other communities to identify common indicators. Through the CGLR, communities also accessed the District Attendance Tracking Tool, developed by Attendance Works. The Tool allows school districts and preschool programs to upload attendance data and receive a chronic absence analysis.
Community comfort with and sophistication in using data grew over time. By 2014, data providers including the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Children and Families and Head Start were working with Discovery communities through the data clinics to understand their data needs. In one case, the Department of Public Health created a special data set for Discovery communities that would not have been available otherwise. Discovery collaboratives went from simply trying to find and understand data to using data in sophisticated ways to influence policy and to drive data production.
Supporting State Capacity
The enormity of the effort to compile, house and distribute data, coupled with the fact that state agencies do not always know what the community data needs are create major obstacles. This is not a challenge that can be taken on by any one entity. In 2008, the Memorial Fund joined forces with local, university and nonprofit data experts to create public and private support for an open source data platform and other resources. The CT Data Collaborative ("the Collaborative"), a group committed to making early childhood data available to policymakers and the public, was launched.
The Collaborative worked to develop relationships with agencies to expand the available data sets and communicate the community data needs to agency staff. In 2010, the Connecticut Health and Education Facilities Authority provided funding to expand the data work and has continued to provide funding in subsequent years. By 2013, the Collaborative launched the Early Childhood Portal.
Successes and Challenges
The Memorial Fund has worked to support Discovery communities in navigating this complex, often frustrating environment, while also trying to support the state's capacity to share and house data. There are several encouraging signs in both arenas.
As of 2013, almost all of the Discovery communities had participated in RBA training. Their increased ability to use data has translated into strong community early childhood plans, which they have used successfully to influence local policy and leverage additional funding. Since 2012, both the number of communities with local match and the average percentage of local match have increased significantly.
The state has also increased its commitment to making data available and accessible to the public. In 2011, the State Legislature's Committee on Children created the CT Kids Report Card. The Report Card is a Results-Based Accountability tool with trend data on indicators of the stability, safety, health, and future success of Connecticut's children. This tool is intended to help legislators, service providers, and the public track the state of the state's children, guide policy, and inform decision-making.
In 2014, Governor Malloy issued an executive order to make state agency data more accessible. The executive order created the CT Open Data Portal website, and the positions of Agency Data Officers (responsible for cleaning and providing data sets within state agencies) and the Chief Data Officer (responsible for oversight of the Agency Data Officers).
This work is certainly not without challenges. In addition to the inherent challenges of managing data, there is also the fact that data is a moving target. The pressure to obtain and share the data before it is outdated is significant.
Another major challenge is incorporating data into internal processes. This is difficult not only for communities and state agencies, but for the Memorial Fund as well. The time, skill and labor involved in consistently employing data driven decision making, along with identifying and tracking performance measures can be formidable obstacles, particularly where staff and resources are scarce.
The questions going forward will be how to build on what has been established and how to continue to grow the network of funders, organizations, and communities that contribute to increased state and local data capacity.