We’ve had the opportunity to leverage some of these best practices with clients through our equity assessment process. Below are some of the insights we’ve learned and applied along the way.
Thinking Beyond Outcome Data
A notable current strength is the robust amount of data being collected by public sector organizations that can provide insights into equity. However, a major macro-level weakness of existing equity data collection—and the analysis and communication of those data—is an overemphasis on outcomes. The focus on outcomes data collection and reporting helps to kick off important, necessary conversations with organizations and their stakeholders. But the approach also leaves out many of the contributing, downstream/upstream data elements that can significantly limit the changemaking capabilities of these conversations. One example of this is focusing conversations primarily on outcomes disparities (i.e., differences in student assessment proficiency across groups) while not exploring and making connections to contributing factors (i.e., differences in school staffing characteristics, student discipline and course access).
Co-creating for Change and Continuous Improvement
Focusing on downstream/upstream data in addition to outcomes data can only be done with a multilayered approach. Data owners and champions, organizational staff not steeped in data, as well as stakeholders from outside of the organization should all be involved in developing the data use cases which can identify the important equity questions the collective group wants to answer using data, and which data to draw from. In addition to innovations in quantitative analysis, the design process should consider and be tightly connected to qualitative activities (i.e., working sessions, focus groups, interviews, document analysis).
Contextualizing and Communicating Old and New Quantitative Equity Data
Analyses, findings, and visualizations are all crafted to tell a story. Throughout engagements it is important for analysts to help organizations think through the best ways to responsibly communicate their quantitative data through an equity lens.Particularly when that stories are intended to be told through an equity lens, data elements can communicate a wide range of hidden narratives and cause unintended consequences. Internally, an analysis and visualization might show lower graduation rates for English Learner (EL) students but, without the proper context, could lead school leaders to systematically lower expectations for this population. Externally, this analysis and visualization, when communicated to the family of a newly designated EL student, could raise notable concerns about the district’s perceptions of EL students and their own child’s potential to achieve in the future. While in practice perfection may never be achieved, teams can get very close by ensuring that co-creation activities and review of qualitative findings address the contexts in which specific findings and visualizations should responsibly be used.
Embarking upon any type of quantitative analysis activity requires awareness of not only the content but also the use and communication. This is particularly true for public sector teams who are engaged in examining their data through an equity lens. It is a type of work that requires notably more engagement in co-creation activities as well as qualitative analysis than most quantitative data work. However, the investment is more than worth it in order to produce the types of products, conversations, and innovations that can significantly push systems closer to equity.