• Article
  • 11.14.19

Constructing the “Why” to Determine the “How”: Conversations about Assessment and Transformation of the Institutional Data Function

  • by Stephan C. Cooley and Leah Ewing Ross

Just as each college or university is unique, it seems reasonable to think that the use of data within each department or office at an institution is also distinctive, and perhaps even dissimilar from the work of other programs and offices. Yet when we focus on the shared goal that binds so much of our collective work—use of data and information in decision making to support student success—we have far more in common than often realized. There is a great deal to be gained in collaboration with colleagues who are committed to the effective and ethical use of data, even when involved with different aspects of the institution’s data function.

We recently experienced this commitment firsthand, and the passion it undergirds, at the 2019 Assessment Institute hosted by IUPUI. The institute consisted of three days of workshops, speaker sessions, discussions, and posters all focused on higher education assessment and its practitioners. Topics ran the gamut from classroom and program-level assessment, to institutional effectiveness, to the integration of equity principles throughout the assessment process, and to higher education data use overall.

The robustness of the AIR community is due in large part to the symbiosis of assessment, institutional research, and other components of college and university data functions, and the fruitful conversations that often result. At the Assessment Institute, we had the opportunity to share AIR’s work on key components an institution can use to evaluate its data function, inclusive of assessment and IR. We were joined by Michele Hansen, IUPUI Assistant Vice Chancellor of Institutional Research and Decision Support. She grounded the conversation in the AIR Statement of Aspirational Practice for IR, which served as the genesis for this work, and reflected on the ways this content has shaped conversations and plans at her institution around the use of data to increase student success.

The overall experience was phenomenal. Indianapolis is a beautiful city brimming with history, art, and cuisine (we highly recommend lunch at Café Patachou the next time you’re in town). However, engaging with our colleagues in assessment, especially the audience of our presentation, epitomized the value of working together to discuss issues that impact data professionals across an institution. Post-presentation conversation was rich with shared experiences, the examination of challenges and concerns, and exploration of ways to convey the value of evaluating an institution’s data function and how that relates to individual roles and responsibilities.

These conversations made it possible to construct the “why” of what we do, which is the foundation required to make discussion of the “how” fruitful.