Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Collaboration Challenges and the Construction of Complex Data Systems: Lessons from the Development of the Illinois Longitudinal Data System

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Collaboration Challenges and the Construction of Complex Data Systems: Lessons from the Development of the Illinois Longitudinal Data System

Article excerpt

There are an increasing number of policy areas where the successful implementation of public programs and initiatives hinges on the formation and management of networks (Agranoff &McGuire 2003; Ansell & Gash, 2008; Hu, Khosa, & Kapucu, 2016; Turrini et al., 2010), including recent education policies that incentivize the construction of statewide systems to collect and analyze student level data. A network is a formalized multi-organizational relationship where participants may collaborate, exchange a variety of resources (i.e. information, knowledge, services, and funding), and serve an overarching purpose. Yet, there are many challenges related to the integration and coordination of the many agencies, which have traditionally been quite fragmented, in the education policy space. These challenges may ultimately thwart the potential for realizing a collaborative advantage from these networks. A collaborative advantage is realized when participants constructively explore their differences, search for solutions, and produce something that exceeds their individual capabilities (Gray, 1989; Huxham, 2003). Furthermore, as reported by Vangen and Huxham (2003, p. 6), there is widespread evidence that networks are "difficult to manage and the likelihood of disappointing outputs and failures is high" (for example, Gould, Ebers, & Clinchy, 1999; Hora & Millar, 2012; Huxham & Vangen, 2000; Medcof, 1997). What, then, do policymakers and practitioners need to know about the formation and management of such networks?

The research question posed above is timely and ripe for further investigation. To inform policy and practice, the Obama Administration has invested heavily in grants that incentivized the development of statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDS) that would capture student level data and track student progress through the education pipeline into the workforce (Conlan & Posner, 2011; US Department of Education, 2011). According to the US Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (2009), the grant funded activities "should include promoting and facilitating the linking of data across institutions, agencies, and states ... [and] support the inclusion of education data from preschool through postsecondary and workforce information, including employment, wage, and earnings data, and to promote linkages with other data systems" (p. 3). Thus, the successful development and utilization of these data systems, both logistically and to satisfy grant expectations, would require the formation and management of networks. As suggested by Hora and Millar (2012), the network or "partnership strategy" has become a core part of U.S. federal education policy. Collaborating across institutions, authority lines, organizational and cultural boundaries, and funding sources, as in many other policy spaces, is now seen as a necessity.

Despite the potential of such networks, the realization of a collaborative advantage is not a certainty. Across the nation, the statewide efforts to build these systems to collect and analyze student level data have garnered mixed results (Starobin & Upah, 2014). The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is a widely respected advocacy group which monitors the development of these data systems. To measure state progress, DQC has identified ten essential elements of statewide longitudinal data systems and ten state actions that help ensure effective data use. While most states have the ten essential elements in place, only three states have implemented all ten state actions. Despite some progress, many states continue to struggle with using the data to inform policy decisions, ensuring that teachers and principals know how to use the data to inform learning, and producing it in a format that is easy for the public to find, access, and understand (DQC, 2016). To what extent, then, can these mixed results be attributed to the challenges of forming and managing networks that achieve high levels of collaboration? …

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