Data Resource Roundup, Vol. 4

August 22, 2016

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Data Resource Roundup! In this series we will periodically share resources, including blogs, courses, white papers and other tools, that cover various aspects of data. Whether it’s better managing and tracking of data or getting your organization to become more data-driven, it will all be here in the Roundup. Have your own resources that should be featured here? Be sure to let me know about them via email or by putting them in the comments. Want to see the first three volumes? See Vol. 1 here and here; Vol. 2 here; and Vol. 3 here.

MUST-READ: I don’t often use the phrase “must-read” because there is so much out there that is useful and rewarding, but this article is must-read. “Using Data for Action and Impact” appeared in the summer 2016 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In it, Jim Fruchterman talks about the challenges and benefits of using data in the social sector. He does this through the lens of “the data supply chain” and discusses how data flows from organizations’ beneficiaries all the way up to international policymakers. These users’ needs vary considerably, and at each stage, aggregating data changes how it can be used. He also discusses the difficulty of measuring the impact of our organizations. If you remain unconvinced about all the data conversations taking place in the college access and success field, start here. If you need to convince someone in your organization about how data can and should be used, send this to them, whether they’re above or below you in your organization’s hierarchy. The clear, concise and thoughtful analysis here is decidedly worth everyone’s time.

GET PAID: Grants are good. We like grants. Markets for Good, a program hosted by the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS), is launching two new grant programs under the banner of “Good Data Grants,” and the RFP is out now. Of particular interest to NCAN members are probably the “innovation grants.” These will be awarded to “501(c)(3) organizations in the United States or transnational/cross-sector teams that include a 501(c)(3) that can serve as the grant recipient and fiscal manager. Priority for these grants will be to teams that include more than one organization and that have a clear plan for sharing what they learn or produce.” The RFP website has some ideas of what the funds might cover. Grants are for one year, and there is a pool of $200,000 for between five and 15 awards. Applications will be accepted until 8 p.m. EST on Sept. 30. If you’ve got a great idea for a practical innovation, but you need some help on the data infrastructure, give this RFP a look.

REMEDIATION RESEARCH: The South Los Angeles Math (SLAM) Project recently released a report on year three of its nine-year longitudinal study. The project teams NCAN member College Bridge with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and California State University-Los Angeles (CSULA). Together, these partners are testing an intervention that in the short-term aims to reduce the need for math remediation and ultimately hopes to spur college access and completion. LAUSD seniors in the project take MATH109, a course that earns them general education credit at CSULA and also negates the need for any remedial math courses. Read more.

MIGRATING DATA: Frequent readers of the Roundup know that I’m a fan of Idealware and the resources it puts out. At a recent Idea Incubator focused on managing databases and ensuring quality data, the question of how to improve the process of migrating data from one system to another came up repeatedly. Idealware has some tips about whether you need a data consultant to assist with your migration (hint: probably, unless you have a lot of capacity in-house). Bonus: There’s also a free guide to nonprofit data migration. Kicking around the idea of moving on to a new system but not sure how to bring along your old data? Start here.

DATA THOUGHTS: Manuela Ekowo at New America writes about “Why Numbers can be Neutral but Data Can’t”: “The truth is, data – and education technology for that matter – are not and cannot be neutral. While often presented as numbers, and derived from applied mathematics – such as statistics – data are not synonymous with numbers or with math. While a data scientist, analyst, or statistician can make computations using data (applied mathematics) and present data about people as numbers (a mathematical symbol or object created in abstraction), this doesn’t make data about people neutral. What differentiates data from numbers is that numbers are mathematical abstractions, an idea. Because numbers are symbols or objects used in math, they can be neutral. But data, originating from the real world and real people, cannot.” 

SOCIO-EMOTIONAL LEARNING: In recent years, NCAN members have shown a lot of interest in non-cognitive skills, “soft skills” and socio-emotional learning. These are admittedly tricky to measure. This guide from the Partnership for Children & Youth is “designed to help school districts and their partner organizations identify tools to assess the quality of their practices in relation to socio-emotional learning (SEL). Most of the tools in this guide were designed for expanded learning – after-school and summer – programs, but could be implemented in school-day or other environments.” The guide examines intended users, data sources, levels of analysis, target program age, and other aspects of these tools.

LISTEN UP: Radio Higher Ed is a periodic podcast that features experts discussing various facets of higher education. A June episode focused on “Using Data to Improve Student Outcomes,” and the hosts chatted with Timothy M. Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success, vice provost, and professor at Georgia State University. GSU has been held up as an example of using analytics and predictive modeling to better serve students and – most importantly – close achievement gaps between different student groups on campus. This is a half-hour well-spent.

DATA MANAGEMENT: Sidekick Solutions has a quick read on “The 4 A’s of Nonprofit Data Management” – Accumulate, Analyze, Apply, and Act, each of which has its own action steps. A good companion piece to this (if I do say myself) is the NCAN blog’s “Lessons Learned from ‘Managing the Data-Driven Organization,’” which recounts a great session I attended at the Do Good Data Conference this year.

Stay tuned until next time for even more resources on data and evaluation!

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