Using Data for Collective Impact Step Four: Discuss the Data

Using Data for Collective Impact Step Four: Discuss the Data

The fourth step to using data for collective impact is discussing data with partners to determine what the data are telling you. These resources will help you facilitate these conversations.

We’ve launched our “Data and Collective Impact” series to help leaders better use data to achieve a shared result. The series outlines the five steps to using data for collective impact we’ve seen in our work. This post digs deeper on the fourth: Discuss the Data. In this and subsequent posts, you’ll find stories to illustrate lessons learned on using data, as well as free resources to help you implement these lessons learned in your own work. 

If you’re following the five steps it takes to use data to achieve collective impact, you’ve already learned about how to facilitate agreement on needed data (Step 1), how to find that data (Step 2), and how to present that data (Step 3) for easy consumption. Now that you have the data arranged in a visually appealing way, we’ll walk through Step 4: how to facilitate discussion about data. This step is the beginning of behavior change, and can spark a shift in making decisions based on what collective impact initiative has learned.

Your data will tell a story. It’s up to your collective impact initiative to determine what’s behind that story and, more importantly, what you’re going to do about it.

Here’s what you need to have a productive discussion about data:

  • Facilitation skills
  • An understanding of assumptions

Facilitation skills

The most important part of “discuss the data” is the discussion, not the data. A strong facilitator can help your partnership come to an agreement about what the data is telling you and any breakdowns in data accessibility you may face while in Step 2. Your facilitator should understand how to shape a conversation about data so that other members of your partnership understand what they are looking at and why that matters, as well as feel empowered to make their own conclusions.

Our partners at the Network for Economic Opportunity in New Orleans have monthly discussions about data and progress to inform on-going work. Due to data accessibility challenges, they haven’t been able to bring a lot of quantitative data to these meetings. Instead, they rely on qualitative updates from partners to move their work forward while simultaneously working on accessing data using some of the elements outlines in our Step 2 blog. They can move their continuous improvement process forward by using anecdotal evidence and “lived experience” while they resolve some of their data accessibility challenges.

Here, you will find a link to a sample agenda from one of the Network for Economic Opportunity’s monthly meetings that you can adapt depending on how much data your initiative is dealing with day-to-day. (Note that “Initiative Owner” refers to an individual in charge of managing a particular project or strategy.)

An understanding of assumptions

Entering a discussion with multiple partners means you are going to confront a lot of assumptions. Your partners may hold assumptions (correct or not) about any number of things– from the cause of problems to how to solve those problems. They may even have assumptions/disagreements about the definitions of seemingly simple terms! For example, the Network for Economic Opportunity is struggling to collect data from their partners because different organizations have different conceptions of what a client “referral” means. Some count a referral if a staff member tells a client to visit a specific service provider; others only count it if the client shows up on the recommendation. Facilitating a conversation in which you can surface disagreement and build consensus about different metrics/measures can help improve your use of data at all steps in this process.

Beyond these definitional assumptions, you should make sure any conversation about data involves a conversation about root causes of problems. If you don’t understand why certain problems exist, it’s unlikely that you can determine effective strategies for solving those problems. Our Prepare Learning Circle sites have gone through a factor analysis process to determine root causes that influence their ultimate shared result. See below for a factor analysis example from All Hand Raised for their work of increasing post-secondary training.

This step is also a critical place to call out the value of equity in your collective impact work. An equity lens should be applied to all the steps to using data for collective impact, but it’s often in this step where equity conversations are most important. Partners need to understand root causes of problems, and the best ways to solve those problems. Bringing up questions of how your initiative is embedding equity at every step of the way may force you to go back to earlier steps in the process and re-consider some of your decisions.

Our next step in this series will help you move from discussion to action.

Resources to Help You Implement Lessons Learned

  • Sample Data Meeting agenda: This sample agenda from the Network for Economic Opportunity can be adapted to help your collective impact initiative have regular periodic check-ins about your on-going data collection and analysis.
  • Factor Analysis example: This presentation gives an example of how one of our partners, All Hands Raised, walked through a factor analysis exercise to get a better understanding of the root causes of the challenges they are working to solve.
  • Head, Heart, Hands exercise: The “Head, Heart, Hands” framework can help you facilitate a conversation about equity with your partners.
  • Webinar: Racial Equity and Community Engagement in Collective Impact This webinar provides several examples of how collective impact initiatives are using conversations about racial equity to better engage their partners.

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