Magazine article Policy & Practice

Disarming Data & Analytics

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Disarming Data & Analytics

Article excerpt

OK, I admit it. I have issues with technology.

Some of APHSA's dearest partners are squarely in this line of work, so I'm wincing as I reveal this. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so for me a big technology breakthrough was when cassettes replaced 8-track tapes. I refuse to move on from CDs. My office neighbor Mo still laughs at me for installing the first apps on my phone, um, recently. And if someone uses words like "modular code" or "full stack development" in my presence, I immediately think of places to hide.

Like I said, I have issues. That's why it didn't surprise me when at a recent data and analytics symposium we co-sponsored, initial discussions around the word cloud (ugh) brought forth terms like "complicated, frustrating, and daunting." What did surprise me was my own word choice, which was "disarming." As bad as technology feels inside, how do I feel when it comes to turning data into useful information and analytics to solve problems, make decisions, overcome preconceived notions, and generate evidence for what works? Well, I'm all in, and with pleasure.

I'm writing this as a witness to what APHSA's members and their partners are currently accomplishing. In the challenging social and political environment we currently experience, it's heartening to see such a greater focus on social and economic mobility and equity, justice and fairness. To see public health, health care, housing, education, criminal justice, community-based organizations, and public human services joining forces more and more. To see local and statewide data and analysis aims shifting from knowing to doing at a faster rate. In other words, to see a data and analytics culture growing within our systems.

Yes, it's far from perfect out there. We still try at times to plug and play evidence-based practices without understanding why they work, and then we darken those word clouds when they don't work for us. Ours is a field that's been talking about service integration since the 80s. Still and all, a witness with issues like mine can still see that "a change is gonna come," thanks Aretha.

Why is a change coming? What are some of the factors that enable data and analytics capabilities to take shape, even in a forbidding climate? What does a culture of data and analytics look like?

Adaptive Leaders with Vision. If you have issues with organizational jargon, remember that I can relate. But the technical term "adaptive leadership" is worth the risk, because it's so counterintuitive. We're conditioned as leaders to know the answers-to be in charge like that. But the very essence of a data and analytics culture is not knowing the answers and being open to what the data tell you. At the same time, leaders have to bring the vision and energy for the sustained effort. We care about data and analytics because we can't otherwise partner to solve tough problems within families and communities.

Good Governance. Data governance and data management efforts have been structured and run with success in many places. Systems that are behind in this regard can easily find examples or procure experts for elements of good governance like datasharing agreements; memoranda of understanding between parties; effective and meaningful client-consent protocols; tiers of organizational governance for oversight, planning, and implementation; and related facilitation and project management skills and methods. In short, let's stop telling ourselves why we can't overcome the technical aspects of our aims and build the working knowledge to fulfill them.

A Guiding Framework, Factors, and Indicators. Our readers are familiar with the Human Services Value Curve and Social Determinants of Health frameworks, and these have proven to be powerful ways to create shared meaning and language across programs and entities working with the same people. Underlying root cause factors and related indicators need to be modeled for a theory of impact to be defined and measures to be studied. …

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