Data Dictionaries and Community Engagement: Reflections from the Empowering Families Learning Community’s first convening

Last month, Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), Third Sector’s data integration partner, convened government leaders from around the country to explore ways to embed administrative data into government programming and decision-making.

The three-day seminar marked the first in a series of Learning Community meetings over the next two years, during which ten jurisdictions will be building out and improving upon Integrated Data Systems (IDS), that embed ongoing administrative data sharing and evaluation across multiple government agencies.

Seven of these states and counties, Connecticut, Iowa, North Carolina, Broward County, Florida, Colorado, Massachusetts, and King County, Washington, are also receiving technical assistance from Third Sector. The technical assistance will be focused on outcomes-oriented contracting, an approach that ties contract incentives to the achievement of longer-term program impact.

This group of seven jurisdictions forms the Empowering Families Cohort, funded by a 2016 Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant, which is the third cohort of government and nonprofit partners with which Third Sector has worked on outcomes-oriented contracting. The Empowering Families initiative will be focusing on two-gen interventions that address the needs and aspirations of the whole family--targeting the complex challenges that both children and their parents face. Third Sector’s technical assistance will consist of four phases and will complement the IDS technical assistance that will be provided to sites by AISP.

EF Learning CommunityIn between sessions with AISP, which focused on foundational concepts of IDS, ethics of IDS research, legal frameworks, governance models, and communications and stakeholder engagement strategies, the Third Sector teams participated in sessions focused on innovative contracting approaches.

Over the course of the three day conference, three key themes emerged:

  1. Learning Community sites have a strong interest in racial equity. Several of the Learning Community sites have already begun to consider how they could use outcomes-oriented contracting and/or IDS to increase equity in their jurisdictions. Third Sector is responding to this trend by exploring how to incorporate an intentional racial equity lens when contracting for outcomes.
  2. There is a growing need for clarity and consistency in the data terms we use. There were a number of discussions throughout the seminar on the exact meaning of a de-identified data set and the elements that could be included in such a data set. Together, as a Learning Community, teams are developing data dictionaries to clarify “limited data set,” “de-identified data set,” and other related terms.
  3. Community engagement and buy-in are important steps to launching an IDS. The Learning Community sites discussed the value of engaging community members whose data will be used in the IDS to get their input into the process. AISP shared that this concept of a “public license” for data is common in other countries and is growing in the U.S.

Third Sector looks forward to building off the momentum from this first convening of the Empowering Families Learning Community. We have begun our work on the ground with our government partners and AISP, to achieve better outcomes for families around the nation. We firmly believe that the marriage of IDS and outcomes-oriented contracting can create both the infrastructure and incentive structures to deliver services that meet communities’ most pressing needs.