FirstEval-Melissa Kovacs


Fights Worth Fighting

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I recently was challenged, “what’s a fight worth fighting?” Much thought goes into my answer: using data to solve community problems, in particular, those related to poverty.

As you know from my last blog post, I am a fan of data sharing among and within local governments, and have seen the effectiveness of applying data-driven decision-making and evidence-based policymaking demonstrated repeatedly.

Yet, when it comes to poverty and its social tentacles (homelessness, addiction, access to early childhood education, work and educational opportunities, food insecurity) we have historically applied the same tools over and over again. This broad toolbox includes government programs and cash assistance, charity and faith-based charitable programs, and individual and corporate giving. But now, technology changes allow us to add data to this toolbox.

How does data fit among potential solutions?

Data support, bolster, and lift these current tools. Data provide us with greater information on who is best served by a program, who and where potential program recipients are and how to reach them, and how to make anti-poverty programs more efficient. I’ve enumerated examples in previous blog postings, but here is a new favorite – the School Zone in West Dallas compiled discrete student data sources into one place to clearly see the nuanced impact of their “cradle-to-career initiative” that helps families exit poverty. This big data compilation surely wasn’t easy – it was likely a fight to get partners to agree to share data, and to create a data system where all data sources could “talk” to each other. The data are used to assist case managers, track longitudinal student success, assess the impact of different extra-curricular activities, and provide best responses to behavioral challenges. This was a fight worth fighting.

What’s more, the School Zone doesn’t have a last mile problem, in that they are relying on data analytic results to make program changes and better their initiative.

Decisions should be made out of data results, not anecdote or personal belief, whether in the public, private, or non-profit sector. Faith in data to make decisions is a fight worth fighting.

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