How We Got It Wrong About Data Use

Data has been promoted as the great game changer in education.  Simply stated, once we have good data, we can figure out what the problems are and how to fix them to improve student success. The common wisdom states that to increase data use, you have to build better data displays, develop a data committee to engage with data, or even deliver data to every staff member’s desktop.  While these efforts are laudable, they are destined for failure. Why?  Because the current theory and practice about increasing data to inform and improve decision making ignores the human element – the receiver of the data who is supposed to comprehend, interpret, form a judgment and eventually add the information to their decision making.  It also ignores the culture of the organization where the introduction of data as a tool for decision making may be unwelcome.

We now know a great deal about psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics (how people think about the amount of effort required to gain a reward).  Each of these fields has a great deal to say about human judgment and decision making and how educators accept and  consume data – how we view a problem and how we draw inferences; what we do as a result of coming to a judgment about something; and how we decide to make changes in policy and practice. These human considerations about decision making are even more important than sophisticated data displays or analytic tools.

We also must recognize organizational habits, cycles of behaviors, how an educational entity operates, the cues it acts upon and the perceived rewards it garners through action. Organizational habits can greatly inhibit or enhance the use of data in your institution.

Good data use results from an interplay among human judgment and decision making, analytics, and organizational habit. In future posts, I will discuss how IEBC’s model uses what we know about psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics and organizational habit to increase data use in the service of improving student success.

So, what do you think? Comment below with your thoughts on this blog or information that you’d like to share. Let’s keep learning together!