Establish an authoritative source for data.
When an initiative like this is launched, everybody thinks their data system is the authoritative source. We found that what should have been the same report would show different information because it had come from two different data sources. My group had some difficult conversations to convince people to trust a single source.
Determine what information is needed, in what form.
We frequently consulted the leadership team and asked administrators to identify the reports and data they needed. Administrators emphasized clean data and drill-down capabilities – right down to individual student performance. Instead of making assumptions, they consulted elementary, middle and high school principals to identify and help develop the most important reporting tools.
Cleanse and validate the data.
The databases ranged from having excellent to unusable data. Some databases were eliminated. The existing databases contained duplicate records, inconsistent data entry conventions and missing elements. We selected analytics provider SAS to consolidate and cleanse the data. In addition to improving the quality of analysis and reports, data cleansing brought some ancillary benefits:
- By ensuring that address information conformed to USPS requirements for mass mailings, the district dramatically reduced the number of returned letters and saved $5,000 on one mailing alone.
- Matching siblings reduced the mailing list to 41,000 households and helped with both the Free/Reduced Lunch Program application process and identifying siblings for the Parent Assistant program.
Create repeatable data integration routines.
Even though data integration jobs are shown in a graphical display, the tool is creating code in the background at the same time. A programmer can hard-code what needs to be reported and can come back to it at any time to use again. Automated data integration proved its value for streamlining repetitive data integration tasks, such as bringing in the nightly data set from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
Publish the data in an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand format.
I wanted our interfaces to be as simple as possible for principals and district leaders. We needed to put data in an interactive, web-based reporting with drill-down capabilities with easy navigation. Now, we store report processes and make them available for users, who access real-time information through a portal.
Establish best practices for data collection and requests.
So often people would want a report immediately, not understanding it could take days to build it out. It didn’t matter. Everybody wants data and they want it now.
My team implemented a process where users have to put in a ticket, just like if their computer was broken. From the superintendent to newspaper reporters to the grants people, we require them to submit a ticket. Tickets help us track in-process and pending requests, identify duplicated efforts, and manage users’ expectations.