Executive Extra

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Using Data to Strengthen Afterschool Systems

How can cities use data to strengthen their afterschool programs?

A new report from Gamse Partnership and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago describes how coalitions built and used data systems for accountability, improvement, strategic planning, and program management. Read on to learn more about the Wallace Foundation's initiative.

It's no secret: Having a way to collect and share reliable afterschool program data can help cities inform and strengthen their efforts to ensure programs are cohesive, at a high-quality, and widely available. Drawing from The Wallace Foundation's Next Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative—a four-year effort to strengthen systems that support high-quality afterschool programs for low-income youth—Using Data to Strengthen Afterschool Planning, Management, and Strategy: Lessons from Eight Cities presents findings on how data systems were established, operated and used in eight U.S. cities.

Connecting the Dots: Data Use in Afterschool Systems summarized interim findings during the initiative that highlighted the importance of three central pillars—investments in people, processes and technology—for developing capacity to collect and use data systems. By the end of the initiative, with continued attention to these pillars, the eight cities had established data systems by building working coalitions across public, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.

The cities—Baltimore, Denver, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia and Saint Paul—made notable progress in how they used data in meaningful ways. They not only expanded how data was used across the system, but also engaged providers more systematically and purposefully in using data, including for accountability, improvement, strategic planning, and program management.

Recommendations about building a functioning afterschool data system include:

  • Recognizing that a new system needs a systems-level focus. This includes having shared goals, sustained focus on outcomes, and understanding of distributed contributions.
  • Collaboratively agreeing on meaningful indicators that signal early progress and can generate visibility and recognition.
  • Understanding local circumstances, contexts, and expertise—and that expertise resides at multiple levels of a given system or context.
  • Sharing progress and learning with relevant audiences by communicating regularly and tailoring information to constituents' priorities.
  • Accepting the reality that participating organizations share motivation, yet may have different priorities, and that the initiative may need to balance collective and organization-specific priorities.
  • Anticipating that not everything will proceed as planned. It helps to have resilience and flexibility to deal with the unexpected, even when building in procedural and managerial safeguards.

Access the full report.

Courtesy of NAA.

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