I’ve talked with a number of communities over the years who are undertaking the work of building a collective impact education partnership, and one of the first things they are thinking about is how to manage the data collection and data initiatives of the partnership. “What exactly do you work on as a data manager?” they ask. “And what kinds of skill sets do we need to be looking for in a data manager?” So through those conversations and reflecting back on the data work when StrivePartnership was still young, I’ve put together the following “a day in the life of a data manager,” split into two parts. Part one is below.
As a data manager for a StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnership, there are three primary areas where I found myself spending time on any given day: digging into data, building relationships and consensus with stakeholders, and supporting the data needs of collaborative action networks.
Evidence-based decision-making is an underpinning of a collective impact partnership, and one of the first things to tackle after establishing the shared vision and goals is to establish a set of shared outcome indicators to help measure progress toward the shared goals. And so a data manager needs to dive head first into the data itself and really understand all the sources, variables and caveats to how the data may be collected and presented. We started with a list of over 75 potential measures, and so the data manager really needs to understand the data landscape in order to be able to help steer the data team and partnership in getting to consensus in narrowing that list down. The manager also needs to become the local education data “expert” and help build credibility for the partnership by being one of the go-to people for questions related to education data and results in the community.
Building relationships and consensus, however, is just as important as the data analytic skills. A partnership’s director and local champions will definitely help with building relationships among partners and advocating for data transparency, but the data manager also has to be able to forge relationships with the key data partners and build trust with them. One of our first efforts was to form a data committee comprised of all the data experts from key partners at the table: the school districts, postsecondary institutions, early childhood professionals and other community data experts. As a committee, we came to a list of 10 shared outcome indicators together, using a set of criteria that we developed, to take back to the executive committee as a recommendation.
It is important that this process is done with your key partners as opposed to it feeling like you are producing a report about your key partners. And so establishing relationships and building trust are key ingredients in this. Landing on the indicators is a back-and-forth process of presenting ideas and getting feedback until you have built something together that everyone feels ownership of. As a result, when we released the first report, executive committee members could speak with confidence about it, knowing that they had truly helped to create it.
Coming next: Working with networks to define indicators where no clear ones exist and key competencies of a data manager: See A day in the life of a data manager: part two.