Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership

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Data-Driven Organizations...What Do They Look Like?

Jim Cox
Educational Consultant



You and I are in the finest profession in the world. I've never encountered a more dedicated group of individuals, and I bet you haven't either. Is it any wonder, then, that we become perplexed, frustrated, and angry when those outside our profession indict us for "a job poorly done?" We are continuously being challenged to prove our worth. Through mandates via legislation and in the media, we are being asked to show evidence of the quality of our efforts. Currently, this issue seems to have become the whole of who we are and what we do.


A current focus in dealing with accountability is the call to become "data-driven organizations." "Use data to become better!" we are told. The use of data has become paramount as we speak of state testing programs, multiple measures, benchmarking, promotion/ retention. Personally, I applaud the effort. In fact, I have tried to contribute to this challenge in my own work. As Edwards Deming, one of the pioneers of the continuous improvement movement said, "Without data, all anyone has is an opinion."


With this emphasis, however, a question naturally follows: "What does a data-driven organization look like?" The answer is not a simple one, but let me offer some thoughts.


A Data-Driven Organization Begins With Its Belief System

There are two major beliefs we must embrace if we are to begin the data-driven journey: (1) Being good at what we do is important. Regardless of how good we are, we will strive to be better; (2) There is a cause and effect relationship between the quality of our professional work (including the climate of our organizations) and the results we get in the form of student achievement. The better we are, the more kids will learn. The less effective we are, the less they will learn.


A Data-Driven Organization Goes Beyond The Collection of Student Achievement Data

I have observed that in most circles, striving to be "data-driven" is viewed as using multiple means to look at student achievement. "We measure this...and then we measure this...and then we benchmark that..." This is good and necessary, but far from sufficient. When we do not collect data about what we are doing and how well we are doing it, we are missing at least one-half (probably more) of the data we need to continuously improve the quality of our efforts. A data-driven organization is one that uses information, collected formally or informally, every step along the way. A data-driven organization continuously asks, "Why?" and supplies answers with information rather than just with opinions.


Questions such as the following are all part of the data picture:

  • Do our teachers and administrators have the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to implement the instructional program as designed?
  • To what degree are the language arts standards being implemented in our classrooms?
  • What are the major deterrents to our successfully implementing the math program?
  • How do parents feel about our school as a learning environment?
  • What are our teachers' greatest needs in order to implement the instructional program effectively?



A school or district will never be truly "data-driven" until the culture of the organization deems the collection of information essential to continuously improving its quality, until the relationship between cause and effect has been firmly established, and until causal information becomes part of a data system, and until asking, "Why?" becomes routine.



Other Columns by Jim Cox: