What Does it Take to Establish, Operate, and Use an Afterschool Data System?

Lessons from Eight Cities

by Ally Margolis, Every Hour Counts

Young people’s zip codes should not be a determinant of their access to high quality afterschool programs, and yet too often they are. The Wallace Foundation has taken aim at this inequity for nearly two decades, beginning with its First Generation Afterschool System Building Initiative, also known as ASB1, and continuing with the Next Generation Afterschool System Building Initiative or ASB2.

ASB2 builds on the findings of ASB1 in eight cities prime for developing afterschool data systems: Baltimore, Denver, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Saint Paul. Each of these cities focused on strengthening systems that support high-quality afterschool programs so that young people from low-income communities have access to quality afterschool learning experiences.

Using Data to Strengthen Afterschool Planning, Management, and Strategy: Lessons from Eight Cities, by and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Gamse Partnership, analyzes the work of these eight cities to answer three overarching questions:

  1. How did cities establish their afterschool data systems?
  2. How did cities operate their afterschool data systems?
  3. How did cities use their afterschool data systems?

Insights from Eight Cities

Here are a few of the many insights gleamed from the Wallace-commissioned report that other communities can use to build and run their own afterschool data systems:

1. Stakeholders are key to establishing afterschool data systems.

People will come and go, and information and technology will continuously evolve, which is why systems need strong stakeholders to keep up with these adaptations. The eight cities aimed to ensure that their systems stayed relevant to the needs of their stakeholders by building relationships, developing coordinating entities like intermediary organizations, and formulating governance structures and processes at the individual, organizational, and institutional levels.

2. Technology, human capital and guiding practices are leading components of operating afterschool data systems.

Three areas ASB2 cities often returned to as they created and operated their data systems were:

a) Technology: Cities ensured technology was in place to collect data systematically and that it continued to function properly.

b) Human Capital: All eight cities hired and trained staff members to manage data, monitor it for accuracy and quality, and keep up with the demands of the system. As one leader from Denver recalled, “‘The biggest evolution was our shift from trying to get as many people as possible access to as many different types of data as possible, to the really targeted investment and coaching in a smaller number of sites,’ ” (How Afterschool Systems Collect, Organize, and Analyze Data, p.18).

c) Policies and Practices: Several cities enacted practices (such as standardized reports and dashboards) to support their data use and make it readily accessible.

3. Data systems are helpful for driving accountability, improvement, strategic planning, and program management.

Once providers, system leaders, and staff in the eight cities had the technology, people, and processes in place, data helped inform decisions and guide actions in the following ways:

a) Accountability: Data from systems encouraged more internal and external accountability. Internally, cities were able to track and monitor performance across sites within their organizations. Externally, they could now report to funders on indicators that were previously difficult to report on reliably, namely participant characteristics, program quality, and school data.

b) Improvement: Data was crucial when identifying where and how to strengthen program content (including quality standards and plans for continuous improvement) and system supports (such as routines for reviewing program data).

c) Strategic Planning: Data informed system goals related to planning, advocacy, and communication. This spurred stakeholders to monitor provider participation in data-related professional development, identify gaps in programming, and integrate data into advocacy and communication efforts. For example, Baltimore, Denver, Grand Rapids, and Nashville incorporated data into their reports and policy briefs to strongly articulate the value of their work.

d) Program Management: System staff’s access to real-time data allowed them to solve many of the problems regularly encountered when making programming decisions and working with individual providers.

Research-Based Resources for Your Afterschool Data System

Using Data to Strengthen Afterschool Planning, Management, and Strategy: Lessons from Eight Cities sheds light on cities across the country that have designed and implemented afterschool data systems to increase successful outcomes for young people. If you are a city looking to take on the hefty, yet important task of building and utilizing an afterschool data system, this report is an essential read.

National Network of Cities Dedicated to Expanded Learning, Equity, & Making Learning Fun

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