Creating an inclusive planning process
The agencies that provide information to state longitudinal data systems (such as K-12 education departments, postsecondary agencies, and employment data holders) have historically played a significant role in developing these systems. This partnership with government experts is critical to ensuring that linked data sets are accurate and reasonable to maintain. However, the data system will be stronger, more useful, and have wider buy-in if there are ways for other users to provide expertise from their vantage point in the system. These users can include researchers, managers of regional or issue-specific data sets, advocacy organizations, educators, parents, and social service providers.
The California Cradle-to-Career system planning process included input from a wide variety of individuals, supported by both legislation and funding. With the support of an expert facilitation team, more than 200 people weighed in through a variety of committees:
- Workgroup: A workgroup comprised of representatives from the agencies that would potentially be supplying data to the system had responsibility for making recommendations to the legislature about all aspects of the system.
- Subcommittees: Six subcommittees developed specific policies and documentation necessary for the data system to meet its intended goals (read about these below).
- Advisory groups: Two advisory groups reviewed policies and documents developed for the workgroup to ensure that a range of perspectives and expertise were taken into account. One advisory group was made up of researchers and focused on analytical tools that would be useful for policymakers, such as data sets, dashboards, and research requests processes. A second advisory group was made up of educators, advocacy organization representatives, and technical assistance providers and focused on tools that would be more useful for students, parents, and educators, related to college eligibility and transcripts.
Break out people by expertise
In many state longitudinal data systems, the governance structure includes committees that align with job functions. For example, one committee works on legal issues, one on technical implementation, one on data definitions, and another on research questions. California’s team had replicated this process by creating six subcommittees that were each tasked with developing recommendations and templates in their areas of expertise:
- Common Identifier Subcommittee: Designed the technical process to link student records across partner entities
- Community Engagement Subcommittee: Developed recommendations for a legislative report about ways to gather and act on feedback from data users, support for evidence-based decision making and analytical capacity, and ensuring equitable access to information
- Definitions Subcommittee: Documented technical definitions for key information that will be shared between partner entities
- Legal Subcommittee: Created legal agreements to support data sharing and protect privacy
- Research Agenda Subcommittee: Identified parameters for research on the six priority areas spelled out in the legislation
- Technology & Security Subcommittee: Developed technology specification requirements to address data structures and privacy considerations
While some documents were shared across subcommittees for comment, role-alike groupings meant that less time was spent translating between contexts and the recommendations will be more useful to the implementation teams as the data system is built. Within the subcommittee structure for the California planning process, non-agency experts also served as core informants to the recommendations. See the Stakeholder Engagement section for more information on the role of external experts on the subcommittees.
Give stakeholders structured opportunities to craft core documents
To ensure that the various groups and organizations involved in the planning process had ownership of the framework, most of the policies developed were authored by agency staff and relevant experts, with support from the planning team. Within each subcommittee and the larger Cradle-to-Career Workgroup, the planning team convened a variety of “homework teams” that developed resources such as the data request process or the opt-out language for the website. To help focus this work, the planning team reviewed exemplar materials and adapted them to align with the California Cradle-to-Career system priorities, for further edits by homework team members.
The stakeholders on the homework team then reviewed this draft document or framework and amended it through a series of web-based meetings where documents could be live-edited. Generally, these meetings were not open to the public, which allowed the participants to speak more frankly about risks and concerns. Recommendations from the homework teams were then vetted publicly, first by the relevant subcommittee, and then approved by the committee with the authority to make formal recommendations.
Sample subcommittee charges and agenda topics
You can compare the types of subcommittees to your own planning teams, identify the potential types of people you might want to include, and evaluate whether you would want to cover similar topics in your own meetings.
Provide many ways to say yes
Most people know about Robert’s Rules of Order related to meeting etiquette, which provides a clear process for proposing and approving ideas. However, up-or-down votes can increase tension and suppress productive conversations about gray areas. The process of creating California’s system took many partners to the edge of their comfort zones, so it was critical to use an agreement scale, instead of yes-or-no votes alone, when making decisions.
Agreement scales align with the true meaning of consensus—that all parties can live with an option. Therefore, an agreement scale includes three options:
- agree with reservations
In the California planning process, each vote included “agree with reservations” as a yes vote. If a planning team member voted “agree with reservations,” they had the opportunity to state for the record what their concern was, but they would not block the proposal. Sometimes, the concerns raised in the “agree with reservations” vote caused the full group to revise the proposal. In other cases, it allowed stakeholders to clearly demonstrate their awareness of complexities or potential upcoming challenges while still allowing the work to go forward.
Use one-on-one conversations to better understand concerns
The planning team frequently discussed sticky issues with specific stakeholders in advance of meetings. If a partner agency expressed reservations in a homework team that were not fully resolved, or a core constituent raised misgivings at an advisory group meeting, the planning team would reach out to better understand the nature of the concern and to identify any actions that could address the issue.
This input helped to identify challenges such as documentation that was missing key nuances for specific constituencies, as well as providing an opportunity to offer supplementary information to address a misconception. At times the concerned party was asked to present the proposal, to ensure that the policy could be explained with greater clarity.
These one-on-one conversations also clarified when there was still significant disagreement around an issue. This might flag for the planning team that more time was needed to refine the proposal before bringing it to a vote. Because the planning team focused on building consensus at each stage of the process, rather than pushing forward with a deeply divided group, most agreements during the planning process were passed unanimously or through a mixture of “agree” and “agree with reservations” votes.