"Data Walk" Is a Key Tool in Results-Based Leadership

Posted October 3, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog startconversationswithdatawalks 2016

Pic­ture a large group of peo­ple walk­ing in pairs around a meet­ing room scru­ti­niz­ing big, detailed bar graphs, tables, pie charts and sto­ries post­ed on the wall. The small groups are talk­ing about how these data came to be and what they mean. It’s called a data walk” and it’s an ide­al way to get stake­hold­ers col­lab­o­rat­ing to assess and improve out­comes for chil­dren and families.

Data walks are one of the many tools of results-based lead­er­ship. They fos­ter con­ver­sa­tions about cur­rent stand­ings for a tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tion of chil­dren and fam­i­lies and what nec­es­sary data might be miss­ing. These walks help groups reach agree­ment on which data to use in devel­op­ing strate­gies to achieve goals and track progress.

A new, ani­mat­ed Casey Foun­da­tion video demon­strates how you can rely on data walks to accel­er­ate group work for improved outcomes.

A large ban­ner in the front and cen­ter of the room spells out the desired out­come and serves as a call to action — for instance, All U.S. Chil­dren Enter School Ready to Learn.” The data post­ed around the room, then, lets the group know where their com­mu­ni­ty, city or state stands in achiev­ing that outcome.

What’s the best talk for a data walk? Part­ners dis­cuss the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion for the tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tions and the goal, with results bro­ken down by demo­graph­ics includ­ing race, gen­der, socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus and geog­ra­phy. Par­tic­i­pants look for dis­par­i­ties among dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions and use the data as a jump­ing-off point to dis­cuss ways to address inequities.

Urg­ing par­tic­i­pants to pair up with peo­ple they don’t know dur­ing the data walk helps build rela­tion­ships with­in the group. A dis­cus­sion guide can help par­tic­i­pants with a series of ques­tions on the over­ar­ch­ing goal and what data tells them about progress — or lack there­of — in achiev­ing it. Par­tic­i­pant reac­tions and per­cep­tions are noted.

After the data walk, the meet­ing facil­i­ta­tor invites group mem­bers to dis­cuss their insights and ideas on achiev­ing the goal and mea­sur­ing improve­ment toward that end. A key fac­tor is dis­cussing how data made mem­bers feel since the review of data can elic­it emo­tion­al respons­es that often help move peo­ple to action with more urgency.

For a new group just form­ing, a data walk can be a good first activ­i­ty to help the group meld and have con­ver­sa­tions — informed by data — about the devel­op­ing work. Estab­lished groups can rely on peri­od­ic data walks to build mutu­al trust and under­stand­ing, solid­i­fy strate­gies to achieve com­mon goals and estab­lish tar­gets for mea­sur­able achieve­ment in improv­ing out­comes for chil­dren and families.

Watch the Data Walk video

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