Data By Design: Embracing Evidence-based Decision Making For The Greater Good

Social Solutions Blog

Data By Design: Embracing Evidence-based Decision Making For The Greater Good

Companies across most industries are finding reasons to apply analytics to drive positive business impact. Thanks to partnerships such as the one between Social Solutions and Ballmer Group, the same tools and approaches used in the corporate sector are becoming more accessible to non-profits interested in leveraging advanced analytics to achieve desired results.

Here at Social Solutions, the Data Science team has been focusing on a particularly worthy goal for data analytics: to help the non-profits we serve transform lives. For children in particular, the Cradle to Career Commitment is a powerful influence for our analytical efforts. It all starts from the acknowledgement that a lifetime of success for every child begins at birth and continues until they earn gainful employment–and achieving this outcome requires a commitment to data to improve and manage outcomes.

As part of this effort, on February 2019, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) became the first school district to sign a groundbreaking data-sharing agreement with Social Solutions, paving the way for others to follow. We have set out to help non-profits serving student populations as they develop a more comprehensive view of each student they serve. Merging this data with data from our industry-leading case management solution Apricot 360, we offer not just a more holistic view of a student, but more actionable insights that help those students achieve their goals inside and outside of school.

Questions like, “Do children in after-school programs have differing school attendance rates than students not enrolled in these programs?” can now be answered through the combination of school and nonprofit data. The Local Investment Commission (LINC), a non-profit that serves seven public school districts in the Kansas City region and uses Apricot to manage its programs, is the first organization to start using the answers as part of its process to evaluate outcomes of the services provided.

In addition to leveraging aggregate data about student attendance, grades, and behavior to help non-profits understand the collective impact of their interventions, the Data Science team at Social Solutions has developed a risk engine to improve the timeliness of interventions. Through a statistical analysis that looks into how individual students are performing academically compared to their peers, and whether they are experiencing chronic absenteeism, we can provide early detection and alert nonprofit partners when a student shows signs of high risk of a negative outcome such as failing to progress to the next grade or dropping out of school. Armed with an early alert system that brings attention to the students at higher risk, case managers can better target their prevention activities, ensuring resources are allocated where they are most needed.

This is only one of many examples showcasing how advanced analytics can help navigate through ambiguity that often surrounds decision-making in nonprofit organizations. From empowering case managers to plan early interventions for at-risk individuals, to enabling leaders to tailor programs and services based on outcome data, analytics can go beyond simply tracking trends and aggregate statistics to hold everybody more accountable to results at the individual level of each person they serve.

Along with the benefits of the insights produced, more data combined from various sources also creates potential risks and issues, including privacy concerns, ethical obligations, risk of misinterpretation, and so forth.

We at Social Solutions understand that with great power, comes great responsibility. To ensure that the data we collect is used only with positive, meaningful intent, we have a series of steps in place to take this responsibility into account.

 We actively design our products to restrict dissemination/distribution of sensitive information to only those who need to see it (like assigned supervisors and case managers), removing individual identifiers from data sets used in predictive risk modeling, assigning accountability, and training people.

There are many ways to put data to work, and the question the Data Science team at Social Solutions never stops asking is, what knowledge will improve the performance of the non-profits using our software? Rather than succumbing to the temptation to collect and report on all possible data that can be quantified, we consider our primary job to identify the warning signs and signals can help case managers improve the timeliness and effectiveness of their interventions, the pieces of knowledge will help managers do a better job, and the systemic changes or actions that are more likely to lead to better future outcomes.

Without question, many challenges and barriers to success remain for non-profits committed to becoming more effective and sustainable. But the evidence is clear: data-driven decisions tend to be better decisions. And the non-profits using the case management and outcomes reporting provided by Social Solutions can count on our team to continue to identify and surface the signs and signals that can help your nonprofit make significant strides toward better performance, from top to bottom.

About the Author

Adriana Beal is a native of Brazil and has lived in the U.S. since 2004. Her background is in Electrical Engineering, Strategic Management of Information Systems, and Data Analytics. Prior to joining Social Solutions, she worked as a product manager for analytics products in healthcare, social media management, and cloud management, and as a data scientist in charge of machine learning models.

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