How to Build Successful Community Data Collaborations

July 2015

As communities strengthen their collaborative work around serving and supporting students through the attainment pipeline, they must be sure to collaborate around data as well. This can prove challenging as institutions and organizations that are accustomed to handling their data internally must learn how to adopt a culture of more open and transparent data sharing. This is an ongoing process that may not only help communities to learn how to serve students more effectively, but can also enable community partners to build more trust in each other and collaborate in other areas.

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) and StriveTogether have identified several promising practices within communities that have been successful in sharing actionable data. This guidebook includes a joint animation produced by DQC, StriveTogether, and IHEP that outlines these practices. It emphasizes leadership buy-in, user training, and a thorough understanding of the data systems that already exist in order to better integrate and house them. In addition, the importance of protecting student data cannot be overstated. Our animation and other resources in this guidebook help communities understand how the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a roadmap to safely sharing data that will be used to benefit students.

A vital tool in data governance and data sharing is a community data-sharing agreement. This formal agreement clearly outlines what information each partner will exchange and be able to access; its development takes a significant amount of time, coordination, communication, and commitment. As students of all ages navigate through schools, after-school programs, and other community-based services, the ability to track individuals across service providers enables communities to identify important information: leaks in the pipeline, successful interventions that herald more positive outcomes, interventions that need to change to produce better results, and inefficient processes that lead to unmet needs or duplicative efforts.

Data about the trends and experiences among underserved students in the community—whether they are still moving through high school or are adults returning to college—allow community partners to engage more deeply to seek out more information and develop new ideas. When communities are able to access and organize these data, they often discover opportunities to realign resources, increase efficiency, and spend time and money more wisely in supporting students.

In addition to the data-sharing animation that outlines tips for successful community data collaborations, this section of our guidebook also features an interview with leaders in Providence, R.I. on a service and data-sharing agreement that has recently been put in place between Providence Public Schools and a collaborative of youth-serving organizations. These relationships enable stakeholders to share a new online case management system to better match students with the supports they need.

Finally, this chapter ends with a list of additional resources where you can find more information on successful data-sharing agreements and data governance.

Providence, R.I.: How to Develop a Community Data-Sharing Agreement

  • Angela Romans, Ed.M., Co-Director of District and Systems Transformation, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and Co-Chair of High School to College and Career Work Group, Providence Children and Youth Cabinet
  • Matt Billings, Project Manager, Providence Children and Youth Cabinet
  • Stephanie Geller, Ed.M., Co-Chair of High School to College and Career Work Group, Providence Children and Youth Cabinet and Policy Analyst, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

IHEP spoke to leaders from the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet (CYC); an education reform support partner, the Annenberg Institute; and a policy and advocacy partner, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, to learn how they developed a new service and data-sharing agreement in Providence. Through shared use of a data platform, a collaborative of local youth-serving organizations and teachers, counselors, and leaders at Providence Public Schools will be able to access data about their students to promote college and career readiness. The platform, Richer Picture, allows users to share notes with each other for an enhanced case management system. Read this interview for advice on how to successfully negotiate such agreements with partners to share data across sectors and promote student success.

We are working towards a vision where all of us in the community are taking responsibility for our youth, and we can most effectively meet their needs by working with the community and schools, collaborating both in a big picture way and in serving individual students.


IHEP: What information will be shared through these agreements?

These agreements would allow the collaborative consisting of various members of the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet’s High School to College and Career (HSCC) Work Group— who work directly with Providence youth—to share data with Providence Public Schools through the Richer Picture platform. One is a service agreement that clarifies the responsibilities of both parties in terms of the services that youth-serving organizations will provide to Providence students and to the public schools through their use of data. The other is the data-sharing agreement that’s more focused on the actual protection of student data, what data can be seen, how data are kept confidential, and so on.

They would allow those youth-serving organizations to see information on youth with whom they work, and information on their progress toward high school graduation and potential barriers to graduation, including issues around chronic absence, course performance, test scores, and so on. They also share information about college readiness and supports to apply for college, including FAFSA completion and other indicators.

This agreement will also allow Providence Public School personnel to see notes written by youth-serving organizations about the support they are providing to improve student outcomes related to high school graduation and college readiness.

IHEP: Looking at the big picture, what goals are you pursuing through these agreements, for both students and partner organizations?

We’re not always sure how reliable the information is that the schools have, or which youth-serving organizations are reaching youth. The superintendent in Providence, Dr. Susan Lusi, had envisioned building a sort of case management system, enabling guidance counselors (for example) to identify a need that is out there, like a student who is not attending school regularly or who needs some support with the college application process. He or she will be able to know that there may be some organization out there already working with the student, who might be a natural partner in addressing those issues, and work more collaboratively with that organization. We are working towards a vision where all of us in the community are taking responsibility for our youth, and we can most effectively meet their needs by working with the community and schools, collaborating both in a big picture way and in serving individual students.

We also want organizations to potentially realign some resources for students who have the greatest needs, or needs that those organizations could meet. Service agreements are asking organizations currently working in the high schools if they are willing to work in other high schools or with other students whom they are not currently serving, if those students are identified as having needs that the organizations can meet. We hope that the case management system will enable us to link students who are most at need with those youth-serving organizations that could meet their needs, providing a multi-tiered support system for students.


IHEP: Which organizations or institutions are involved in this data-sharing agreement?

There was a lot of conversation about the wording of both of those agreements and which parties were willing and able to be a part of it. We now have 10 organizations all serving K-12 students, who are part of the HSCC Work Group and have signed service agreements and data-sharing agreements. Some of the youthserving organizations who are members of the CYC already have their own individual data-sharing agreements with the public schools and are still using those rather than participating in our blanket group data-sharing agreement. A couple of others are expected to sign onto the agreement but are still waiting on some final signatures or getting legal language clarified.

IHEP: Which partners initially drove the development of these new agreements?

It was originally the vision of the superintendent, Dr. Lusi, who wanted to address college and career readiness for the district. She looked at a case management system that existed at the elementary school level in full-service community schools, and she wanted to see something similar brought to the high school level. Community members really pushed for this agreement as well to strategically move toward her vision of the case management approach. Ideas for this level of data-sharing have been kicked around the district for three or four years. Providence Children and Youth Cabinet is working around collective impact, and the backbone of that work is the realignment of resources to meet the needs of students, so it’s fundamental to our vision as well.

Dr. Marco Andrade, the director of the Office of Research, Planning, and Accountability at Providence Public Schools, has played a significant role as well. He has a vision of open data and an understanding of what a strong Response to Intervention (RTI) model looks like when articulated. Angela Romans and Stephanie Geller have facilitated the development and implementation of agreements between the district and youth-serving organizations; a lot of work has been invested in the high-level communication and transparency that goes into talking about what’s working and what’s not working, facilitating dialogue, getting everyone’s signoff, and building trust across partners.


IHEP: With the agreements now in place, how will Richer Picture support the idea for this case management system?

Richer Picture shifts the conversation from a traditional one-way model—one organization sharing information with another—to a two-way model. The youth-serving organizations will actually input qualitative data on students; there’s a function in Richer Picture that allows partners to input narratives or stories on the students they are serving. Teachers, counselors, and others at schools would be able to access them, and write their own notes as well. It’s like sharing notes back and forth. It’s an opportunity for community-based and school-based partners to write about what’s happening with a student and share information.

Dr. Andrade and his team at the district selected the platform. In addition to the case management features, one reason it was chosen was because it has multiple levels of access. District officials have wide access, parents have specific access points, students have access, and teachers, counselors, and community organizations have different levels of access. Another reason was its visual interface, which was more intuitive for users than other platforms.

IHEP: Can you describe the different phases of work that went into developing these agreements?

First we talked about the general idea, how people could benefit from it. Then there was a phase that clarified what this would look like. We had organizations come to trainings so people could actually view the Richer Picture product and get excited about what it would allow them to do. There were mock students and they could play around with their data. After that, we had to write, edit, and finalize the language in the service agreement, get it to everyone, and collect all the signatures we needed. Then we went through the same process with the data-sharing agreement, making sure everyone approved the language and getting all of the organizations and partners to sign it. We also needed to obtain a list of all the staff members at each organization who would have access to the data and collect confidentiality agreements from these individuals.

You don’t always think early on about all the steps that need to happen. There were more than we realized when we first started the project a year and a half ago. I don’t think we were aware at the beginning that these would be two agreements, a service agreement and data-sharing agreement. We were also not aware that we would end up needing to have parent releases. That involved another process of reviewing the language there, making sure everyone was comfortable with it, and translating the release into Spanish.

IHEP: Which components of these agreements took the longest time to complete?

One piece that took a long time was coming to a consensus on what the data-sharing agreements would allow in terms of level of access. For example, we initially thought organizations that were part of the agreement would be able to have access to information on all the youth they serve. Then more recently we talked about how the district felt uncomfortable providing information on all of those students unless they had individual parent releases for each youth. That took a while to work out and get everyone on board with the new language in the agreement, and making sure it was all understood by both parties.

Certainly issues of trust and commitment have come up. We had the superintendent attend a meeting of the Work Group and she was able to demonstrate that she remained committed to the agreement and to seeing it through to the end, and that her call for the parent releases did not take away from that commitment. I think that was an important show of leadership on her part and busted some barriers around trust. As an organization, we have talked a lot about trust and not just how to build it, but also the processes required to go through to rebuild it if it is breaking.

It’s been a new experience for the school district, which traditionally had data sharing agreements with individual organizations rather than with a collaborative. Dr. Andrade was clear that he was not going to enter into any such new data-sharing agreements and the district would align all of its efforts into this consortium agreement. I think that level of commitment to alignment helped keep folks at the table and helped the district demonstrate support for collective impact.

IHEP: What steps are you working on now?

Now we’re in the process of rolling it all out, running Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) trainings, and actually using the Richer Picture product. We’ve had one training about FERPA—the legal requirements in terms of protecting data—and we’re setting up another one.

We also need to make sure we have a process in place for troubleshooting, when people have any difficulty with the platform. We’re talking about having regular meetings with the groups that are party to the agreement to talk about how to improve Richer Picture, how it works, and how we could expand it to other kinds of data and to other organizations in the upcoming academic year. We consider the remainder of this school year to be a pilot. During the trainings, there are a couple of key objectives: 1) get people excited about the capabilities of this product, 2) make sure everyone understands the legal requirements in protecting student data, 3) show people how to actually use the nuts and bolts of this platform, and 4) talk about how to improve our use of the platform over time.

Certainly issues of trust and commitment have come up... It’s been a new experience for the school district, which traditionally had data-sharing agreements with individual organizations rather than with a collaborative.


IHEP: What kind of impact has the process of creating these agreements had on the partnership in Providence?

Despite the fact that this is a longer process than we had envisioned, I think some of the growing pains in putting it together actually make the collaborative stronger. You have to be more direct about clearly identifying everyone’s responsibility. As a tool it brings conversations to a new place, about what everyone is giving and what they hope to get through the work.

Additional Resources

Data Drives School-Community Collaboration: Seven Principles for Effective Data Sharing (2015: StriveTogether and Data Quality Campaign)

This playbook helps communities develop strong data partnerships to improve student supports and educational outcomes. Its seven principles help equip educational and community stakeholders with the information they need to establish data partnerships in their respective communities. These principles are informed by the experiences of communities who have already developed cradle-to-career networks, as well as by national experts at StriveTogether and the Data Quality Campaign. The playbook also identifies four common hurdles to data-sharing initiatives—trust, turf, time, and technology—and offers advice for overcoming them.

Developing a Master Data Sharing Agreement: Seeking Student-Level Evidence to Support a Collaborative Community Effort in Education (2012: Neil E. Carlson et al.)

This resource describes how school systems, out-of-school programs, and other organizations can partner together to create a Master Data Sharing Agreement (MDSA), in which longitudinal student data is shared in order to propel and evaluate efforts to improve education quality and outcomes. The report examines the formation of a partnership between out-of-school programs and a public school system in Grand Rapids, Michigan to explain the process of creating MDSAs. It describes the data flow process for partnerships, the groundwork needed for building MDSAs, and key obstacles and breakthroughs in the negotiation process. It also details recommendations for organizations that want to create an MDSA using this community’s experience.

Credential Data Pioneers (2014: Workforce Data Quality Campaign)

This report outlines how states and institutions can use data to track outcomes for students who earn certificates, certifications, and licenses in order to better measure their value in the workforce. These data systems can be used to show policymakers the worth of credentials, help educators know how well their programs align with the labor market, guide decision-making among students and employees, and assist businesses in recruiting students with these credentials. This resource also describes how several states and institutions have made data-sharing agreements with certification bodies and licensing agencies to access data on workforce outcomes.

Data Use in Promise Partnerships of Salt Lake – A Resource for Parents, Students, and Community Members (2014: United Way of Salt Lake)

This resource for parents, students, and community members describes how out-of-school education, healthcare, and other student and parent support programs called Promise Partners can share data in order to make a better collective impact on student outcomes. This guide provides principles on data sharing and use and covers the security mechanisms for protecting data stored in a cloud-based data management system. Lastly, it explains how data collection must comply with privacy regulations and practices like FERPA and includes an overview of the FERPA waiver process.

Making Workforce Data Work (2014: Workforce Data Quality Campaign)

This report provides an overview of the various stakeholders— students, employers, policymakers, and educators—who need access to quality workforce data and the data that should be collected. It also discusses state longitudinal data systems and their role in bringing together workforce data with relevant information on education and workforce training programs, social services, and earnings. It includes examples of how states are implementing various reforms in workforce data-sharing and use.