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  • Ask eAIR
  • 11.19.19

IR's Role in Expanding Data Culture on Campus

  • by Suzanne Simpson, Director of Institutional Research & Assessment, The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Dear Suzanne: What is IR's role in expanding the data culture on campus in regard to engaging campus users and supporting a culture of data inquiry, while building the sustainability and capacity of IR?

Suzanne SimpsonData analytics are no longer one and done projects. Our offices are no longer simply reporting data but are also engaged in analysis and application, trying to answer questions such as how can “we” ensure students are successful, how can classroom spaces be best utilized, and how are student perceptions impacting graduation and retention rates? As data analytics and questions regarding the data expand, so will our office functionality. Moving forward, we have to remain committed to providing accurate, secure, clean, and consistent data. At the same time, we must build the capacity of our units' output and ensure sustainability as the demands continue to expand, in order to keep up with constantly moving targets.

Creating a culture of inquiry drives sustainability and the stories that we tell with our data. We, as IR professionals, need to be willing and able to make these shifts to build, support, and sustain data integrity and continue to engage users to provide for a more robust data culture on our college campuses. While institutions are different in how we approach data decisions, we are the same in how we use data to support student success and planning. Expanding the data culture on a college campus can be cumbersome for an institutional research office, but the benefits of having those hard conversations can be rewarding.

Here are a few suggestions you can use to impact the data culture on your campus:

  1. Focus Groups: As you begin to have these conversations on your campus, consider opening up focus group meetings and invite others from the institution to provide feedback to your office. Open these groups up to faculty, staff, and students. Allow these groups the opportunity to provide insightful feedback on how you can provide clear data to each levels data needs. Don’t be discouraged by criticism or negative feedback; use that information as a springboard to identify areas for improvement.
  2. Data Review Teams: Create data review teams that consistently meet, and update data as needed in your student information system. Have teams divide into certain areas such as admissions, budgets, faculty, financial aid, and registration. Also, have someone spearhead the review of data tables in your student information system. Do these types of reviews periodically to make sure policy or program changes have not impacted the way you collect and report your data.
  3. Faculty Inclusion: Include faculty in your discussions when it involves student retention, student instructor evaluations, and student grades. Decisions that impact the way students move through your campus also impacts the faculty, and, therefore, is a reflection back on the IR office. Keep people involved in how you think about the data and how you garner support for changes that occur in your state and federal reporting efforts. Empowering them to use the data you provide can help them see the value of IR as well as the data itself.
  4. Information Technology Support: It is also very helpful to have a good support team within your information technology office. On our campus these individuals are our unsung heroes. Our technology department keeps our data secure and keeps measures in place that allow us to do our jobs – and do them well. Consider having someone in your technology department as a co-chair on your data governance committee or consider having them assist in writing policies and procedures that govern data integrity, data governance, and sustainability. Look for ways to build positive relationships with staff in this area.

These are just a few ways to garner support from your campus community, but staying engaged in your national, regional, and state organizations can help in how you address issues in your offices. Data governance needs to be in the forefront of our minds and a commitment within our offices to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide for the security, clarity, and consistency of data that we review, analyze, and disseminate.

By building a data governance structure, we are ensuring procedures are in place to support data sustainability.

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