Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Making a Difference in Your Neighborhood: Using Data to Achieve Results

In November 2011, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) released a new tool for communities: “Making a Difference In Your Neighborhood: A Handbook for Using Community Decision-Making to Improve the Lives of Children, Youth and Families.” Based on CSSP’s work in communities throughout the past two decades, this handbook provides communities with the “how to” guidance that is needed to begin community change efforts. In the next few months, we will provide a brief overview of each of the handbook’s chapters and highlight the information that we believe is critical to building communities that improve outcomes for children and families.

This week, we spotlight Chapter 3: Using Data to Achieve Results

Data is at the heart of any community change initiative. As you begin to embark on community change work, data quickly becomes more than just numbers or statistics. Instead, it tells an interesting story about your community and describes the current conditions that children, families and residents face. As you move forward with your community change initiative, data provides residents, community stakeholders and partners with a common language that can identify the results that are needed, motivate people to act and hold the entire community accountable for achieving the desired results. In addition, data should also be used to track the progress of your strategies and help you to make real-time decisions about the programs, opportunities and strategies that are implemented to improve the well-being of the community.

To truly understand what has contributed to the current conditions in the community, you will need to use various kinds of data to understand what happened in the past and what is happening now.  Data will help you to uncover the risk factors and conditions that place residents at an increased risk of negative outcomes, as well as the protective factors and assets that help residents overcome these risks.  Quantitative Data answers the questions of how much or how many and can be found in local agencies, foundations and prior research. Looking at this data allows you to see trends that have occurred in your community over time. For example, what percent of children score at grade level by 3rd grade? Qualitative Data, on the other hand, is gathered through conversations with community members, surveys, focus groups and other sources and can provide a narrative that helps you to fill in information gaps. For example, why do teachers think children are not scoring at grade level? Parents

As results are selected, you will need to select indicators, which will help you measure your community’s progress in achieving its results. For example, the community’s desired result may be to ensure that children are prepared to succeed in school. The indicator, however, may be the percent of children deemed ready by local school assessments at the time of school entry. Using indicators to measure your progress can help you identify changes that are occurring, revise strategies and/or programs that may not be working and enhancing and expanding those that are leading to positive outcomes.

For more information about using data to achieve results, including data assessment tools and community case studies, please view the Making a Difference in Your Neighborhood handbook

To learn more about CSSP’s work in communities, please click here.

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