A key first step in the planning process is establishing a clear purpose, audience, and vision for the longitudinal data system. This activity can help to surface commonalities and differences in the priorities that various stakeholders–such as state agencies, policymakers, researchers, and advocates–may hold. Getting these concerns out in the open and coming to agreement about shared goals can help to head off disagreements later and make everyone feel welcomed and valued in the process.
Once the planning team determines who the data system is for and how they will use it, clear and concise vision and mission statements help clarify why the data system is necessary and how it contributes to state’s long-term policy and program goals. These statements establish the potential scope and required components of the data system and become a shared north star for making decisions throughout the process.
The who and the why for building a data system
In California, to develop a shared purpose the team began with interviews with representatives from stakeholder agencies, which included social service, health, workforce training, and employment departments in addition to education agencies. These conversations revealed that many partners had divergent views of who would be served by the data system and how they would use it. Therefore, the team established a shared vision of the project’s who and the why before attempting to hammer out implementation considerations such as governance structures or legal agreements.
The who: When states first started linking data sets to follow people over time, the emphasis was on whether K-12 students went on to college, with a strong focus on responding to accountability requirements. Therefore, in most states, researchers and policy makers are the key constituents for whom longitudinal data sets have been designed.
But it’s clear a broader range of people would benefit from access to information about pathways from school to career. For this reason, states are now expanding their intended users to include members of the public, such as students, parents, and community organizations.
Community members often seek a different level of information than a researcher or policy maker would. For example, in addition to understanding trends in college-going rates at particular high schools, parents value information that clarifies their child’s eligibility to attend a competitive college.
“User personas” can help create a system that is useful to people with different ways of using the data.
Create user personas to identify data system audiences and tools
One way to get clarity on constituents and uses for a data system is to create user personas. Personas help develop a clear understanding of target audiences by bringing them to life in a very human and real way, including anticipated behaviors, patterns, needs, and preferences. Each persona includes the following details:
- Demographics: Age, gender, ethnicity, location, job or role
- Functional: What is the specific task they are trying to complete?
- Social: How do they want to be perceived?
- Emotional: How do they want to feel?
- Pains: What negatives are they trying to avoid?
- Gains: What positives are they trying to accomplish?
For the California Cradle-to-Career system, participants in the planning process first named all the types of people they thought might want to use the data system. Then they answered the questions in the list above to flesh out what types of problems each type of person would be seeking to solve. This brainstorming process yielded about 25 different archetypes. However, when examining the types of information each archetype would need, participants found that the personas fit into four main user types:
- Analyzers: People looking at trends and comparisons to evaluate systemic problems and opportunities
- Organizational Partners: People seeking to improve outcomes and implementation of interventions at the institutional or system level
- Practitioners: People seeking to improve outcomes and implementation of interventions at the individual level
- Individuals: People seeking to improve outcomes for themselves or a family member
Having a clearer understanding of the differences between what a reporter might want, compared to a high school counselor supporting a student through the college application process, allowed the planning participants to prioritize which types of tools to include in the Cradle-to-Career system and who should have access to which types of information. This made it easier to construct appropriate legal agreements, because counsel could identify the specific types of provisions needed to ensure access would conform with state and federal requirements. Similarly, the question of where to house the data system was shaped by having a better understanding of the characteristics that would be in greatest alignment with the vision for the system.
As a starting place, you can identify which of these personas you are currently serving and then determine which audiences you might also want to design for. You can also amend these sample profiles to better reflect your local context.
Use vision and mission statements to codify data system audiences, scope, and tools
The why: Once the California planning process participants had clarified who the data system was for and the types of resources that it would provide, a small team crafted vision and mission statements that described these priorities and how they contribute to the state’s long-term policy and program goals in a concise format. This was the why of the work. The draft statements were reviewed and edited by stakeholders and adopted through a formal vote (we describe this decision-making structure in the Planning and Management section). Crucially, these statements then became anchors of the work and were referenced throughout the planning process to help stakeholders get to agreement about the implementation structure.
California Cradle-to-Career system vision and mission statements
The Cradle-to-Career System connects individuals and organizations with trusted information and resources. It provides insights into critical milestones in the pipeline from early care to K–12 to higher education, skills training, and employment. It empowers individuals to reach their full potential and fosters evidence-based decision-making to help California build a more equitable future.
To be California’s source of actionable data and research on education, economic, and health outcomes for individuals, families, and communities; to expand access to tools and services to navigate the education to employment pipeline.
The vision statement clarifies what impact the data system will have. For example, it:
- informed the focus of the legal agreements, which need to bridge the divergent federal frameworks for health and education data — see the Legal section for more information
- prompted the planning team to grapple with and resolve differences in data definitions across workforce and education sectors, which was essential to the technical design of the system — see this Selecting the Data section
- clarified the type of entity that would host the data system, because the emphasis on trusted information requires a neutral entity that does not make policy recommendations — see the Data Governance section
- articulated the scope of the data system, which includes both analytical tools such as dashboards and tools designed for students and families, such as college and career planning tools
The mission statement spelled out the types of resources that the data system will provide, which informed the implementation timeline and resource allocation requests.