What does it take to use data to change behavior in collective impact?

A new blog series will walk you through five steps to using data to help you change behavior for collective impact.

blogimage_DataThis piece was originally published by Living Cities as an introduction to their new series on data. While designed for collective impact initiatives, the series is helpful for any cross-sector initiative looking to use data to keep its collaboration on track.

By Jeff Raderstrong, Program Associate for the Integration Initiative, Living Cities

Without continuously tracking and managing progress with data, it is highly unlikely that a collective impact initiative, or any large-scale change initiative, can achieve its goals. Collective impact initiatives need to use data to help manage progress towards achieving a shared result.

The continuous use of data grounds the collective impact work, which can show partners when and how they should change their behavior to keep the initiative on track. Grounding the collective impact initiative in data creates a learning orientation to help collective impact initiatives continuously improve.

At Living Cities, we think of the use of data as a continuous “feedback loop” that helps you change behavior and create systemic change in communities. The goal of this data-driven feedback loop is learning and improvement. We break this feedback loop down into four components: key drivers; 3-6 and 6-10 year outcomes; and a shared result. A data-driven feedback loop ensures that strategies are both aligned and on track with the overall goals of the initiative.

What does it take to use data to change behavior in collective impact?
We have seen that embedding a data-driven feedback loop can be a big challenge for collective impact initiatives. There are many challenges associated with using data to change behavior, but they all fundamentally come down to questions of the capacities and skills required to manage a data-driven process.

To help you better manage the use of data, we’re creating a blog series that will highlight lessons learned from our collective impact portfolio and share additional free tools and resources. If you’re interested in following along in this journey, sign up to get updates.

Steps to use data to change behavior in collective impact
To start off the series, we’re outlining the five steps we’ve seen as critical to using data in collective impact. Each blog post in the Data and Collective Impact series will go deeper on each step. They are presented linearly, but depending on where you are in the work of your initiative, you may need to start at Step 3 for your outcomes, but start at Step 1 for key drivers. You may also find that completing a step in the process requires you to go back and answer some new questions related to an earlier step.

Step 1: Agree on the Data
Before you do anything, you need to know what data you and your partners care about. There’s a lot of data out there, and you want to be sure you’re focused on the data that actually speaks to the impact you are trying to create in your community.

Step 2: Find the Data
Now that you know what data you need, you’ve got to find it. If the data exists, figure out how to access it. If it doesn’t, figure out how to develop it. Some partners may be more able and willing to share data than others. It’ll be up to you to hold people accountable to sharing their data continuously as your initiative works to achieve its shared result.

Step 3: Present the Data
Now that you’ve got all your data, you need to make it presentable. Raw data generally doesn’t change anyone’s mind, because no one can interpret them. Take what you have and make it digestible, understandable and actionable. Remember your audience, too — what you’re presenting depends on who you are presenting to.

Step 4: Discuss the Data
This step is the beginning of behavior change. With your data in a more presentable format, you can dive into the data’s meaning with your partners. Your data will tell a story—and it’s up to your collective impact initiative to determine what’s behind that story and, more importantly, what you’re going to do about it.

Step 5: Change Behavior and Share Responsibility
Here’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of improving your work. If, after your discussion, everyone goes back to business as usual, you won’t be on a better path to achieving your shared result. This is where a learning orientation becomes so important: You need to make sure everyone in your collective impact initiative is actually incorporating lessons learned and changing behavior based on the data. And, ultimately, you want to see your partners owning their own data and shifting their work without your initiative holding them accountable.

The steps may seem simple, but implementing them is anything but. The rest of this blog series will feature examples and resources to help you build your collective impact initiative’s capacity to use data. Sign up to receive updates on this series so you don’t miss resources to help you achieve your collective impact.

Jeff Raderstrong captures lessons learned from The Integration Initiative sites for sharing with Living Cities’ members and the field more broadly. Jeff is also the founder of UnSectored, a community platform for re-thinking social change.