Webinar Highlights Role of Data in Decision Making, Introduces New Tool   

While the temptation in a time of crisis is to be defensive with data and minimize downside risk, colleges will not reach goals for equity, student success, or leading communities forward without an offensive strategy.  

During ATD’s In-Network webinar, Data-Informed Decision Making in Times of Disruption, ATD Network colleges talked about effective ways to use evidence-based decision-making in times of crisis. Achieving the Dream President and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout set the context for the discussion, reporting that community college leaders from across the ATD Network expressed a strong need for data to better understand student and faculty needs, and how the data informs the way they design learning continuity supports going forward. During the crisis, ATD coaches have been connecting with their college teams virtually and have talked with presidents and CEOs to hear firsthand how they were responding to the pandemic. The information gathered by coaches helped ATD design a two-part webinar series and develop a new resource for making decisions during a time of crisis.

An offensive strategy during COVID-19 must include the ability to think differently about data. 

An offensive strategy during COVID-19 must include the ability to think differently about data. Dr. Stout shared an analogy of the Chicago Bulls professional basketball team practicing set pieces, or plays over and over, which they would later implement to great success in a game. COVID has changed the game, and it’s incumbent upon college teams to create new set pieces to implement based upon current data. “It’s important that we begin to use data and new data to understand what’s happening with learning continuity,” urged Dr. Stout. 

Four practices used by strong teams 

In implementing these new data, Dr. Stout shared practices used by strong teams, identified by ATD coaches and leaders over the years:  

  1. Follow formal structures for facilitated deliberation 
  2. Focus on joint inquiry versus advocacy 
  3. Invite participant diversity 
  4. Create a climate for psychological safety 

Two staff members from ATD Leader College Valencia College, an institution that has exemplified these practices over the years and was awarded the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, drew upon the Orlando, FL, institution’s experience with disruption from natural disasters and human-induced traumas. In their remarks, Brandon McKelvey, Vice President of Analytics and Planning, and Daryl Davis, Assistant Vice President for Analytics and Reporting, spoke to the experience the college had in dealing with disruptive patterns as they prepared for COVID-19.  

Many of the elements in a natural disaster – the disruption of instruction and how to provide supports to students – were apparent in the first few weeks of the pandemic. As Valencia’s physical closure wore on, however, it became apparent that the uncertainty would require the use of strong data to begin planning for various future scenarios. McKelvey credited the college’s past experiences that allowed them to quickly identify the most important strategic outcomes and build a representative group of stakeholders to add tactics to the strategy and design principles. Davis referenced the processes that the college already had in place that allowed them to quickly interpret their new data and make recommendations to senior leaders at the college. 

Laurie Heacock, Senior Advisor for Data & Analytics, introduced ATD’s new tool, Data Informed Decision Making In Times of Disruption: A Guide. The guide, developed by Achieving the Dream with input from data coaches, is a resource designed to support colleges in decision making through asking timely, relevant questions, and focusing on the data that delivers the most value because it is actionable or provides necessary context to make critical decisions. Heacock explained that the guide is organized around questions with relative metrics into three categories: Student Learning, Student Supports, and Enrollment Management.  

Dr. Stout concluded the webinar by citing Valencia College’s strong work in moving with urgency from data to action to results and the importance of asking the right questions, the guiding principle behind ATD’s new guide, during a time of disruption. 

The guide is now available on ATD’s COVID-19 resource page.   

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