Panel 4 Summary – Engaging Community Stakeholders in Policy and Practice Reform
Elizabeth Gaines, Vice President, Policy Solutions, Forum for Youth Investment
Ready By 21
Elizabeth Gaines identifies the Forum for Youth Investment (Forum FYI) as an action tank rather than a think tank. The organization’s signature initiative, Ready by 21, is a set of strategies for communities and states to improve the odds that all children and youth will be ready for college, work and life by the age of 21. “We think about the whole child,” says Gaines, referring to education, social and civic connectedness, and physical and emotional health and safety.
To explain the system’s current flaws, she points to a diagram of social service offerings in Los Angeles County that resembles a plate of painted spaghetti and states, “There is a better way, you must agree.”
The theory of change behind Ready by 21 holds that accountable leadership drives support systems, which in turn create better outcomes for children and youth. The initiative, supported by administrative data on an SAS platform, prompts participants at every level to answer the following questions:
- How much are agency accomplishments contributing to improved supports and outcomes?
- How much are family, school and community support systems contributing to improved child and youth outcomes?
- How much is youth readiness contributing to our community’s long-term prosperity?
As a manager of the nationwide Children’s Cabinet Network, Forum FYI recommends that states and localities create broad partnerships to integrate multiple types of data (demographics, youth indicators, participation, quality/performance, program availability, provider/workforce capacity, resource/investment) across age groups, common outcome areas, levels, and boundaries. Proper data security and confidentiality is imperative, of course. Gaines also recommends asking the community for their insights on why the data look the way they do, and what might be impeding the progress of a program.
This is unquestionably a challenge, but without the richness of integrated data, no one knows the full story. “If you wanted to fill a job, and a kid walks in and says, ‘I’m not a teen parent, I’m not on drugs, and I have no criminal record,’ would you hire him?” Gaines asks rhetorically, adding one last important point: policymakers need positive data, too.
Laura Shubilla, Co-Founder of Building 21
Using Integrated Data to Catalyze Action
Laura Shubilla is convinced that effective solutions must have more than integrated data. Observe Project U-Turn, a collaborative citywide campaign managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network to understand and resolve Philadelphia’s high school dropout crisis. It is funded by the William Penn Foundation, which Shubilla credits as a powerful convener, stating, “They helped us understand where the data are.”
Collaborators include representatives of the school district, city agencies, foundations, universities, youth-serving organizations, parents, community activists, and young people. “That represents a lot of data, but,”Shubilla notes, “it is only when data are connected and framed by a solid vision that they become actionable.”
Project U-Turn explores data in its social and political context, including policy, quantity and quality of options, and stakeholder involvement. Shubilla stresses that, “We have to ask ourselves, not just what we want to know, but why we want to know it – and how will it make a difference? The work must have a soul.”
Project U-Turn uncovered multiple early indicators for when and why kids drop out of school, finding the highest dropout rates where systems overlapped, such as foster placement with juvenile justice. The coalition uses the data as part of a dynamic narrative to catalyze action. As a result, new partnerships have formed between child welfare and juvenile justice and graduation rates have increased six percent. The next target will be attendance.
Claudia Coulton, Professor, Case Western Reserve University
Engaging Community Partners: Opportunities for Local Impact with IDS
Claudia Coulton, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, argues that integrated data systems (IDS) should be used to lend “spatial nuance” to policy and problem-solving endeavors. This will allow communities in need to have local interventions based on data informed by – and relevant to – each unique locality.
With the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) has launched a three-year, cross-site program to expand the relevance of IDS for local policy. In 36 communities (with many more in the works), local partners engage in building and operating neighborhood-level information systems to improve local policy and program decision-making.
Coulton attributes NNIP’s success to the trust and engagement of participating institutions, relevant, high-quality data, and a commitment to use those data for local action. A few examples of NNIP projects include:
- Baltimore links housing and energy records to investigate the economic impact of weatherization and energy assistance.
- Pittsburgh links property records and data about neighborhood conditions to school absenteeism.
- Cleveland links child welfare, school, and juvenile justice records to understand how the outcomes for youth aging out of foster care differ from their school and neighborhood peers.
Putting data into practice at the community level requires cooperation and sharing at the state, county, and local levels. By linking local IDS to state longitudinal data systems – and building relationships between the people who handle those data – communities will be better equipped to make effective policy and program decisions.
Rebecca Lee, Information Group Acting Director, Providence Plan
Democratizing Data in Providence, Rhode Island
The Providence Plan (ProvPlan) is a city-state partnership working to improve social and economic well-being by providing residents and public agencies with data that support smart decision-making. As acting director of ProvPlan’s Information Group, Rebecca Lee’s job is to help build an IDS that links data across agencies and makes it more comprehensible and actionable through maps and graphics.
ProvPlan is a trusted intermediary, and the organization already has data sharing agreements with nine state and local partners in health, education, children and youth, corrections, and community service, with agreements in the works with the Department of Labor and Training and the Department of Human Services. Lee and her team have experience in policy and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and have been exceptionally creative in developing tools – snapshot reports, video tutorials, and do-it-yourself visualization software – that help people make sense of vast amounts of information.
Perhaps the most innovative are the data stories, interactive slideshows that start with an essential question, such as “What are the primary factors that affect student attendance in middle school?” These stories, which guide users through selected data and demonstrate the use of powerful analytic tools, exist as useful products online, but Lee insists that the process of creating them is every bit as valuable.
Once a funder or convener identifies a broad topic area – attendance, literacy, or lead poisoning, for example – stakeholders craft the essential question. Data are brought in and an outline is created, but stakeholders must meet repeatedly to refine and interpret the story. This builds a lot of personal and professional connections.
Like any good story, one with data must have a beginning, middle, and end. In Providence they end with action steps, including policy and research recommendations at the federal, state, and local levels. Many stories generate additional stories. For instance, a question about middle school attendance originally focused on one school and has prompted an examination of two more schools.