Potential for Data Sharing to Create a Holistic Approach to Family Services
Data sharing is nothing new. Though, it is gaining more notoriety, especially locally as the city and its partners work on developing their Smart Columbus initiative. Once Columbus becomes “smarter,” it’ll use data sharing to create a city of interactive mechanisms that’ll expedite traffic flow, make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and lessen the city’s environmental impact.
Companies use data sharing as well. It provides them with insight on where and how individuals spend their dollars. They can track spending through store cards and shoot out targeted coupons based on consumer purchases.
Right now, innovative work is happening in Columbus to take the concept of data sharing and use it to address familial needs holistically. Currently, nonprofits work independently and use isolated data to resolve familial issues. But, an assessment tool developed by GroundWork Group is in the early stages of recording and aggregating data that will inform and guide decisions made by all kinds of nonprofits, helping families find stability and self-sufficiency.
The idea first took off when Nationwide invested in Learning Circle Education Services to create a “digital backpack” for Columbus City School students. Students with unstable home lives are more likely to move several times before finishing school. Before the digital backpack, information from one school would be lost as the student enrolled elsewhere, and educators would be consequently unfamiliar with the student’s academic and behavioral history. The digital backpack tracks and records this history, and, as it has taken off, it’s grown to include data from after school programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus and I Know I Can.
In this way, “We can really identify what part of a student’s success throughout their academic period is influenced by other nonprofits also supporting the families in many different ways,” said Tony Wells, co-creator of the Wells Foundation.
Now, using an assessment tool developed through a partnership among the Columbus Foundation, the Wells Foundation, the Siemer Institute for Family Stability and GroundWork Group, this concept will find application outside of the school system.
It’s been a multiyear project, starting in 2015 and going live just two months ago. With support from the Chase Foundation and Community Research Partners, Siemer Institute first connected with GroundWork to gauge the assessment’s purpose and usefulness. Its present form is a more functional version of the Arizona Self-Sufficiency Matrix — a popular assessment covering anything from housing and education to social relations and community involvement — and it’s currently being piloted in 10 cities.
“[The Arizona Self-Sufficiency Matrix] is a tool that’s widely used across the country, and while really good and comprehensive, it can be hard to read and hard to translate to numbers,” said Lynnette Cook, Executive Director at Community Research Partners. “So we helped them tweak it and turn it into a tool that their case managers can use.”
Aligning with the Siemer Institute’s mission, the assessment tool will track any factor that can contribute to a family’s instability. Using information provided by nonprofits addressing income insecurity, obstacles to transportation, counseling, and more, the assessment will create a database showing how individuals, families and communities are improving and what strategies are working. In this way, Siemer Institute can visualize trends, communicate with nonprofits whose approaches are working, and share those approaches with other nonprofits in like cities.
Nonprofits have always collected and shared data, but never in this way. If a nonprofit wants to share information, it typically must risk confidentiality as the information leaves its database. What GroundWork’s assessment offers is one dataset for case managers all over the country to utilize and contribute to.
“That’s really why we partnered with GroundWork Group, from a technology standpoint,” said Rob Podlogar, National Director for the Siemer Institute, “because they’re top of the class with helping nonprofits be able to develop a system to capture the meaningful information.”
The pilot assessment, which took off two months ago, will wrap up in early 2018. After that, it’ll be adjusted and shared with the Siemer Institute’s partners in 53 of the country’s biggest cities. If it’s successful, Podlogar said they’d even like to share the data with organizations outside of their network, a move that could, over time, make the nonprofit community a less reactive and more preventative resource.
For more information, visit groundworkgroup.org.
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