ClassTag Connect / May 10, 2021

How to Achieve Data-Driven Democracy for Schools

data-driven decision making schools

To benefit from a data-driven democracy in schools, leaders need to ensure that more decisions are data-driven, and the right people make the right choice. As they foster a data-rich culture, many districts are adopting a culture of data-driven democracy. As the second domain referenced in our white paper, Supercharging District Success, data democratization can enhance every essential decision.

We tend to think of democracy in narrow political terms, but it really speaks to leadership of the people. What the Greeks coined as democracy, we might call “crowd-sourced leadership.” If you want your district to benefit from the [data] wisdom of the crowd, four organizational approaches can be the building blocks for creating data-driven democracy for schools. When you master these dynamics, your schools and district will benefit from data leadership, “by the people” and “for the people.”

Promote Access to Data-Driven Systems

In government, citizens express preferences through the voting booth—a function political scientists call the franchise. In a data democracy, users contribute value through system access—a function data scientists call permissions. Using proper credentials, users can advance through roles such as viewer, commenter, editor, and owner. As they progress, data citizens gain more opportunities to interact with, filter and curate data. They can also create rules-based decisions that reflect data intelligence.

If a district espouses a more authoritarian data culture, then few people have access and almost no users have permission to edit or own data sources. Data authoritarians maintain strict control at the expense of collaboration and divergent thinking. In contrast, data democrats choose the path of greater access and deeper collaboration. There are tradeoffs, as more open access requires more purposeful training and oversight for all users. The major benefit of a more open data culture is that the district can empower more, and more insightful experts to justify and make decisions.

Liberate and Launch Your Data Democracy

If your district is serious about creating a potent data democracy, follow four stages to liberate your data and launch a democracy that empowers better decisions.

Stage One: Declare Interdependence

Many users are aware of how dependent they are on data. But they may also be dependent on a data “expert” or provider. Users would be more engaged and more empowered if they understood how they are both users and creators of mission-critical information. Crafting a “Declaration of Interdependence” is a great way to broadcast your commitment to data democracy. Explaining the cultural and strategic benefits of data citizenship is a key first phase to build awareness and acceptance for the shift from authoritarian to democratic data practices.

Stage Two: Constitute a More Practical Union

Democracy works because citizen-voters can choose the people and shape the decisions that serve their interests. In a data democracy, users have the opportunity to influence decisions about which systems and what types of information are collected and applied. District leaders should explicitly commit to create unity between the needs of teachers and students and the data systems they depend on. The more practical the data is, the more likely it is that all stakeholders will rely on data to make informed decisions.

Stage Three: Build Rights and Amendments

In a data-driven democracy for schools, when users and generators are more involved with data systems, they will understand their own power. What political citizens celebrate as civil rights, data citizens employ as system permissions. Those permissions give users rights to create, manipulate, analyze and correlate all sorts of data. As they are more active and dependent on data systems, users will start to contemplate additional applications. They might ask for amendments to the systems and routines in place—amendments that preserve and extend their ability to contribute. This is when authoritarian tendencies might resurface in the data culture. A true data democracy is responsive to the people, even when the people ask for enhancements and expansions.

Stage Four: Preserving Data Democracy for Schools

It is said that political liberty is never more than one generation from extinction. It requires careful preservation and courageous protection. So too with data democracy. Granting data autonomy will create some conflict and new challenges with coordination and integrity. The natural response will be to contract back to a more authoritarian posture. So, leaders who are committed to data democracy must practice enough oversight to address those challenges, while still promoting enough autonomy to gain the benefits of distributed data leadership. Celebrating successes and attributing great decisions to data democracy will help preserve and protect the cultural commitments necessary to nourish the culture.

Foster Data-Driven Literacy

Many schools require lessons in civics because self-government is a skill that depends on literacy and inquiry. With data democracy, the same is true. Users must have a basic vocabulary about data systems and data intelligence. Data literacy is the skill of using specific terms and functions for data systems with proficiency. Users that understand concepts like fields, variables, filtering, sorting, and reporting are data literate. For every district, the specific systems will be different. Therefore, equipping users with precise language for data literacy will make conversations more efficient and decisions more accurate.

The second aspect of data literacy is the ability to query data sets to get desired results. Many database searches are built around simple query language (SQL) so understanding how a particular platform converts natural language into queries can streamline the user experience. It also reduces friction if data users know in advance what kinds of questions they are trying to answer and can collect data with that purpose in mind. Some decisions require qualitative data—narratives, stories, and sentiment. Other tasks depend on the numbers, ranks, and comparisons that make up quantitative data. Whichever selection or combination is called for, training users to prefer helpful questions and responses can ensure that the data democracy is vibrant and robust.

Cast A Final Vote For Data Democracy

School districts operate with a mix of hierarchy and autonomy. For decisions like budgets, buildings, and personnel, it may be wise to preserve a clear chain of command. For topics like teaching methods and interactive style, districts have long trusted teachers and others to act with autonomy. So, moving data-based decisions to the democratic side of the house makes sense. Let the data be free. Let the people lead. See the blessings of data democracy for schools and students.

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