Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Decentralizing Data through DecisionSupport Systems: The Impact of Increased Access to Data on Decision Making

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Decentralizing Data through DecisionSupport Systems: The Impact of Increased Access to Data on Decision Making

Article excerpt

This study examines the impact of a new Decision-Support System (DSS) on decision making in a community college in California. It looks at how attitudes and behaviors about data and their use were impacted by the implementation of a new DSS. The study found that the decentralization of data, through the DSS, produced a shift in terms of an increased desire to use data as well as an increase in the actual use of data that could be used to address and guide decision making. Additionally while the ways in which decisions were approached revealed a more proactive use of data for decision making, the study also revealed legacy organizational patterns, structures, and norms that need to be addressed in order for the institution to more effectively build and support an emerging culture of inquiry over time.

Introduction

Higher education institutions have been under a great deal of pressure to increase their use of data and information (Wells, Silk & Torres, 1999). As a result, many of these institutions responded by developing Decision Support Systems (DSS) with the aim of increasing access to data for staff and faculty throughout the institution (Banta, Rudolph, Van Dyke & Fisher, 1996; Frost, Dahymple & Wang, 1998). Recent research has suggested that easier access to data within higher-education institutions affects how people use that information (Chan, 1999; Pickett & Hamre, 2002). This study examines the impact of a new DSS on decision making within one community college district. It looks specifically at how perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors about data and its uses were impacted by the implementation of the new DSS. Our interest in choosing to look at the im- pact of the DSS on decision making was to find out whether increased access to data had an effect on the way individuals approached decision making and inquiry. This study builds on existing research by il- lustrating how one community college's implementa- tion of a DSS increased data access and use and helped to create the capacity for a culture of inquiry. It also builds on prior research by showing how deci- sion support systems are inevitably situated within a history of institutional structures and attitudes, which need to be factored into an institution's ability to support a culture of inquiry.

Literature

Institutions of higher education have been recognized as complex and high-pressure decision-making environments (Harmon, 1986). The use of decision support systems emerged as a response to the increasing demand for direct data access within higher education institutions (Frost, Dalrymple, & Wang, 1998). Decision support systems have historically brought together data resources in order to better facilitate data use on multiple levels (Metz & Cosgriff, 2000) . Additionally, recent advancements in computer technologies in business and government have allowed non-specialists to make better use of data analysis (Hallett,2000).

On most campuses, prior to the introduction of a decision support system for users across the institution, data had been concentrated within central administrative offices. As a result of this centralized structure, these offices often experienced an overload of requests for data from individuals, thereby creating an unmet need for data (Frost, Dalrymple & Wang, 1998; Serban, 2002; Wells, Silk & Torres, 1999). At the institutional level, the implementation of a decision support system helps to ameliorate this problem by placing data directly in the hands of those who need it. This comes at a time when more people are being asked to respond to inquiries based on data rather than on intuition (Wells, Silk & Torres, 1999) .

Some research suggests that decision support systems help users develop more sophisticated means of analyzing and interpreting data (Harmon, 1986; National Forum on Education Statistics [NFES], 2006). This ease of access can stimulate users to look at data with a new sense of familiarity and understanding; data is regularly at their disposal and not simply handed to them without an understanding of the context in which the data were retrieved. …

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