Data Sharing in Community Partnerships
The OMG Center for Collaborative Learning released its second issue brief in a series highlighting lessons learned from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Community Partnerships portfolio– a strategy that included MDC’s Partners for Postsecondary Success initiative. The latest brief, Using Data to Advance a Postsecondary Systems Change Agenda, recognizes how the partnerships used data to drive change and action toward their goal of increasing educational attainment rates in their communities.
Sharing data among partners encourages critical thinking and collaboration, but also requires a certain level of transparency and accountability. At first, partners may be hesitant to share data due to privacy concerns or for fear of their data being judged or misunderstood. Data sharing agreements provide partners with a document based on trust and shared accountability, outlining who will have access to their information and how that data may be used.
Data Sharing in Action
Raleigh, North Carolina, is home to the PPS initiative Raleigh Colleges and Community Collaborative (RCCC), which aims to strengthen and build partnerships, to engage the local community to raise awareness about postsecondary completion rates, and to remove barriers that block students from supports they need to succeed. With more than twenty partners, data sharing was discussed early and often in the Collaborative.
The RCCC worked toward several objectives, many focusing on the need to collect, analyze, and use data to improve student success and completion. Although there were some informal data sharing activities already happening, the RCCC wanted to formalize the process – hence the need for data sharing agreements.
To get a better understanding of where partners stood on the issue of data sharing, the Collaborative decided to conduct interviews with representatives from Raleigh’s six higher education institutions. Listed below are major themes that arose from these conversations:
- Data sharing agreements are necessary. There was consensus among partners that agreements on how to share data were needed. Agreements should include protocols for the collection, storage, analysis, and public reporting of data and should also address the specifics of the exact variables that will be collected and agreed upon measures and definitions.
- The highest level leader in all partner organizations should sign the data sharing agreement. When creating data sharing agreements, relationships should be developed with top-level leaders who can then serve as champions to move the work forward.
- Ask for a data set instead of a list of statistics. Because statistics can come in different forms and analyzed in various ways, it is better to receive a set of data (preferably student or client level data) from institutions that the collaborative can then mold as appropriate.
- Present data differently for different audiences. Not everyone will consume the same types of data. Data should be shared and explained in ways that will capture each audience without losing the core message.
- Collecting data always leads to more questions. Once data are collected, questions will arise. What if the findings are negative? Will we need to completely reinvent our approach? How do we use data to change the culture of institutions? What will be the pressure to collect more data in the future? Partners should dedicate time to answer these and other questions and ensure consensus on the strategy before moving forward.
Developing meaningful and effective ways to share data within a partnership takes time. Partners may be resistant to sharing data at first, usually reflecting fear or consequences based on prior negative experiences. We encourage partnerships planning to engage in systems-level change work to adopt the mantra: “We will use data as a tool, not as a weapon.” When partners view the partnership as a safe space in which to share, discuss, and apply data, walls fall, barriers are broken, and common goals are advanced.