Keep your relationship with data solution-oriented

Blog title: Keep your relationship with data solution-oriented on top of a landscape of green fields.

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

When used effectively, data accelerates your team’s progress. Get the most out of the data you and your team use by developing a solution-oriented relationship with data.

1. Connect data to goals you care about.

Developing your team’s solution-oriented data mindset depends largely on how well a solution-your data connects to goals that you and your team truly care about. Leaders who use data successfully frame data with the same language they use to describe the positive change they are working towards in every other part of their work. Simply put, unless the data you are using connects to something that matters, no graph, chart, or table will ever communicate something helpful.

Right now, much of the data that organizations use is often connected to someone else’s goals: percent passing on standardized tests, number of arrests made, and number of people registering for events are all common metrics established by someone outside of our direct influence. And, because most of my clients work in highly connected systems, they rarely have the luxury of simply ignoring data connected to other people’s goals. Often, teams can develop a solution-oriented mindset by exploring how conflicting goals might collide to form common ground.

I/We care about…“They” care about…So maybe we both care about…
Helping my staff engage youth who have experienced trauma.Increasing our graduation rate.Increasing the level of connection that our youth feel with their school.
Success in our after-school programming.Positive change for students during the school day.How our after school program supports children and youth when they’re not with us.
Making sure youth who are experiencing homelessness can reach someone they trust.If the youth our program serves are getting good grades.Whether youth have an advocate that can remove barriers to academic success.
Reducing the number of people in my community arrested for minor drug offenses.Getting drug users off the streets.Effective prevention and treatment services. 
Resolving Colliding Goals

For the times that ‘goal collisions’ don’t generate a synthesis, or when stakeholders are not ready to accept any alternative way of framing goals, you may have to accept temporarily that your team will have to work towards your own local goals while managing expectations of stakeholders with a different point of view. In the meantime, you and your team are the experts your work, context, and vision. If you want to enhance your team’s solution-oriented approach to data, connect your data to goals you truly care about.

2. Use the right kind of tools.

Data tools have different purposes, and achieving goals that matter typically involved recruiting multiple tools for screening, fidelity, diagnostic and outcomes.

Tools for measuring….…aren’t great tools to…….and are best used to….
Screeningexplain what support a person needs or to evaluate a program identify who has the most to gain from something we’re trying to do. 
Fidelityevaluate or judge practitioners’ skill or commitmentfigure out at what level the thing we’re trying to do can actually be done.
Diagnosticassess the overall effectiveness of a programdetermine which specific point in a process is creating an obstacle  
Outcomeexplain why something is or isn’t working establish the level at which someone or something is currently performing.  
Choose the right data tool for your purpose.

Hammers are for nails. Spatulas are for pancakes. Do not flip pancakes with a hammer. As your team is deciding how to measure progress towards goals, make sure that the tools you adopt or develop match the purpose

3. Make a plan. 

Once you’ve identified the tools you want to use, planning what you want to do is much simpler. Here are two examples of action plans based on solution-oriented data:

Tools for measuring….How our after school program supports children and youth when they’re not with us.Effective prevention and treatment services. 
Screening (Who has the most to gain?)Middle and high school participants with GPAs less than 2.0.Participants who have had an interaction with law enforcement and indicate a willingness to begin treatment.
Specific GoalIncrease work completion for identified students by 25%.Increase the number of identified participants who are transported to treatment centers by 17%.
Specific StrategyAn afterschool program staff is will review each students’ assignment notebook and require students to complete at least one assignment prior to other programming.Sergeant will search for reports involving substance misuse and assign officers to contact citizens noted in reports and offer transportation to treatment center.
Fidelity (Is what we’re doing realistic for staff, families, and participants?)Percent of students who complete one assignment within first 45 minutes.Percent of reports that result in making contact with a potential participant.
Diagnostic (At what point can we best intervene, and what should we do?)Describe the process of helping students complete work from the moment a teacher assigns work to the moment the work gets turned in. Calculate drop-off rate at each step.Describe the process of identifying participants to transportation to treatment center. Calculate drop-off rate at each step.
Outcome (Did it work?)One question weekly teacher survey: “Is [name of student] caught up on their work?One question weekly officer report: How many citizens did you transport to [name of treatment center]?
Examples of Plans Based on Solution-Oriented Data

4. Get to work.

The most effective way of developing a solution-oriented mindset with data is for you and your team to take action. When you’ve developed your plan and your data tools, explain what strategies you want your colleagues to implement, what data they need to collect, and to whom to go. Train everyone with a role in the plan to implement identified strategies correctly as well as when and to whom they should report problems that come up.

Taking action is the most important part of having a solution-oriented relationship with data. And, when we connect data to goals we care about, use the right data tools, and create a plan to do something significant with our data, all the graphs and charts have meaning and import that they never would have had before.

Finally, never forget that behind every data point beats the heart of an actual human being. Ultimately, the purpose of any school, nonprofit, or agency is to be of service. With a solution-oriented approach, data can help us be of service to more people and with greater efficacy.

Keep your relationship with data solution-oriented.
  1. Connect data to goals you truly care about.
  2. Choose the right tools.
  3. Make a plan.
  4. Get to work.

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