Data in Action! Using Information to Make Real Community Changes


By Piper T. Grandjean Targos
Data Analyst at Custom Evaluation Services
For North Central Early Learning Regional Coalition

As the resident “data nerd” for our evaluation team, I get very excited when we start talking about numbers, and how to use them to measure real changes in the world. Especially when I’m working with a group that is making a difference for children and families.
The North Central Early Learning Regional Coalition is the regional representative for children and families in North Central Washington — including Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties — and the team at Custom Evaluation Services (CES) is partnering with the coalition to help it become very clear on what members are doing, and what they are measuring so that we can grow their ability to use data.
Over time, this will help the coalition achieve its goals, and by extension help the communities it serves. Personally, this project is particularly engaging for me because I have a professional background in and a passion for early childhood education.

Our step-by-step process involves determining a shared sense of purpose for the coalition, determining which data is necessary and available to collect, and choosing a system for that collection — all while engaging the frontline staff in a manner that is meaningful to them and fosters investment in the process.
This is how Josie Rutherford, a coalition member describes it: “We spend our day-to-day thinking about reaching partners and families, and how to reach them with important information while carrying their voices back to the regional and state tables. What this work with CES lets us do is think about our work over a period of time, and how it should evolve based on what we’re learning from our community. Where are our families, and what are their needs? What are the connections we can make that will make the biggest difference for them? How do we focus our efforts when our region is so large and diverse? The answers are in the evaluation and data.”
Once a meaningful sense of direction has been established, the coalition will take the reins to begin using data to improve and sustain the system for long-term maintenance, growth and advocacy. Though this entire process takes quite a while — three or four years for full integration — having real, meaningful, and reality-based information to make programming decisions on is vital to an impactful sustainable organization. The outcome will be well worth the time and energy it takes to make system-level changes from the inside out. It’s gonna be a great year!
Interested in learning more about using data in collaborative work? This white paper from Public/Private Ventures and Child Trends lets you dive in to the details.