By Doug Folkers, Information Systems Officer (Nebraska Department of Education)
– written for the Preschool Development Grant newsletter
As part of PDG grant efforts in Nebraska, the creation of a tool that lays a foundation for visualizing and using data to inform policy, practice, and program progress has been affectionately known as the Community Assessment Tool or CAT. The name “CAT” may need to change to reflect its scope and intended usefulness, yet for purposes of describing these efforts we will use the original description.
Initially designed by folks in the state of Utah, the “CAT” served as a prototype that brought disparate data sets together for visualization. In Nebraska, the tool will be an interactive resource designed to allow users to easily access and compare comprehensive data in one place. The tool will support early childhood providers, advocates, and state administrators with program planning and support the Birth to Five Preschool Development Grant (PDG), Pritzker Children’s Initiative Prenatal-to-Age-Three Grant (PCI PN-3), Early Childhood Interagency Coordinating Council (ECCIC), and Early Childhood Data Coalition (ECDC) initiatives. The tool uses a Framework developed by ECDataWorks, which captures the key components of service delivery and participation using four categories: Eligibility, Access, Services, and Impact (EASI). The tool will provide statewide, Educational Service Unit, and county maps and allows users to view data in all four areas of EASI at several levels of geographic granularity, including state senate district and zip code.
The CAT is envisioned to provide useful, accurate, and timely data to the public related to early childhood programs and services in Nebraska. Community-level data are valuable for understanding the need for, availability of, and quality of early childhood programs and services. Many states and local public agencies struggle to access useful information about the status of community services and programs to inform policies and practices. These data are often provided through a plethora of websites and program reports. Reports with community-level data often only include data on one type of program (e.g., child care or health services), rather than providing data on the landscape of early childhood services.
Simply making data available does not support users in making connections between reports, thereby limiting users’ abilities to learn from the data, understand the status of community services, or make informed decisions based on a complete picture. Given the complexity of early childhood programs and services, policymakers and community leaders require clear and timely information that cuts across program areas to effectively assess needs and customize solutions for their communities.
Combining community-level data from multiple sources will help policymakers and community leaders coordinate services and foster greater community engagement in early childhood efforts. Compilation of disparate data will provide context about the community needs, program availability, and collective impacts, improving responsiveness to the needs of young children and their families. Service provision will be more comprehensively analyzed to better understand whether services are adequate, appropriate, and accessible.
The tool will bring together data in these four key areas (EASI) and allow for flexibility to answer questions of interest that span across programs and services. The EASI framework will allow service providers and community leaders to explore issues using data across eligibility, access, services, and impact to identify action steps.
Longer term, powering the tool will be a solid infrastructure supporting security and privacy of data, relationships and data governance, and data sources that will support the strategic goals and objectives of the PDG efforts and the broader EECE community. These efforts and the sustainable efforts to ensure the infrastructure, connections, and data relationships are all a part of the broader Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS), affectionately pronounced E – Kids.
An initial release of the tool for Nebraska is targeted for the end of the initial PDG grant in February 2020 and provides a unique opportunity to support the objectives of PDG, PCI PN-3, and the broader EECE community.