Five Questions with Casey: Cindy Guy on Data’s Newest Super Tool

Posted January 9, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionscindyguy 2017

As vice pres­i­dent for Research, Eval­u­a­tion, Evi­dence and Data, Cindy Guy over­sees inde­pen­dent eval­u­a­tions of Foun­da­tion ini­tia­tives and com­mis­sions exter­nal research on issues affect­ing Casey’s tar­get populations.

In this role, she also works to pro­mote the devel­op­ment and uptake of Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems, which link data across mul­ti­ple pub­lic agen­cies to gen­er­ate a more com­pre­hen­sive — and com­plete — pic­ture of chil­dren, fam­i­lies and communities.

Pri­or to join­ing Casey in 1992, Guy taught at Roo­sevelt Uni­ver­si­ty and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go and worked for MDRC, a nation­al social pol­i­cy research firm. She holds a Ph.D. in cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gy from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago.

In this Five Ques­tions edi­tion, Guy tells how Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems can inform social pol­i­cy and pro­gram man­age­ment to spur pos­i­tive change for chil­dren and families.

Q1. What is an Inte­grat­ed Data System?

An Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tem is an impor­tant tool for enhanc­ing research, pro­gram design, and poli­cies to the ben­e­fit of chil­dren, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. While human ser­vices agen­cies, schools and oth­er insti­tu­tions col­lect a rich array of data on the peo­ple they serve, they often silo this infor­ma­tion. Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems enable dif­fer­ent agen­cies to com­pile their data into a com­pre­hen­sive data­base, which agen­cies can use to learn more about ser­vice pat­terns over time and, ulti­mate­ly, about pro­gram results.

Q2. What are some ben­e­fits of using an Inte­grat­ed Data System?

Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems can help users lever­age data to dri­ve deci­sion mak­ing. They’re also cost effec­tive. These sys­tems include data that schools and agen­cies col­lect on every per­son they serve over the nor­mal course of busi­ness. This means that when you ask a ques­tion that requires data from dif­fer­ent agen­cies, you don’t need to start from scratch and con­duct a new sur­vey or research study. Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems are also ide­al for dis­ag­gre­gat­ing data by pol­i­cy-rel­e­vant sub­groups — such as by race or neigh­bor­hood — and for exam­in­ing spe­cif­ic pro­gram com­po­nents and out­come trends.

Q3. What are some chal­lenges of using this type of system?

As with any large data­base, keep­ing infor­ma­tion pri­vate and secure is impor­tant. You must take steps to ensure that users share infor­ma­tion with­out vio­lat­ing an individual’s pri­va­cy or exist­ing pri­va­cy laws.

The good news is that fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions sup­port many types of data link­ing. The Every Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act encour­ages link­ing edu­ca­tion data with child wel­fare data, and states have made strides in link­ing pre-kinder­garten, K‑12, and work­force data.

Oth­er poten­tial chal­lenges: Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems rely on mul­ti­ple agen­cies work­ing togeth­er to build rela­tion­ships and trust. They also require the use of sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nol­o­gy and a trained, data-savvy staff.

Q4. What led the Casey Foun­da­tion to focus on an Inte­grat­ed Data System?

An exten­sive sur­vey — like the one that the Foun­da­tion con­duct­ed across mul­ti­ple Mak­ing Con­nec­tions sites — pro­vides a wealth of valu­able data for eval­u­a­tion and plan­ning. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these sur­veys are time-limited.

In con­trast, the admin­is­tra­tive data col­lect­ed by agen­cies are ongo­ing and sus­tain­able. Because of this, Casey is work­ing to help grantees access admin­is­tra­tive data and use Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tems to con­duct pol­i­cy research. The Foun­da­tion also sup­ports efforts to link par­ent data with child data. Draw­ing this data con­nec­tion can help us iden­ti­fy which pro­grams and poli­cies work best in sup­port­ing both vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and their par­ents at the same time.

Q5. Can you cite an exam­ple of how this tool has made a dif­fer­ence for chil­dren and families?

New York City used an Inte­grat­ed Data Sys­tem to con­nect child wel­fare data with juve­nile jus­tice data. As a result, city offi­cials learned that kids placed in fos­ter care by age 9 or lat­er were more like­ly to come into con­tact with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem com­pared to kids who were placed in fos­ter care as infants or in ear­ly child­hood. Because of this find­ing, offi­cials mod­i­fied their ser­vices— and adopt­ed more pre­ven­tive, age-appro­pri­ate pro­grams for adolescents.

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