Using a data walk to redesign a workforce development training program

Are you and your team trying to make better sense of your data? You might want to consider a Data Walk. A data walk is a simple exercise that helps staff and stakeholders understand their data and use it to make better decisions.

Looking through chart. Group of confident young people planning business strategy while looking at infographic displayed on the glass wall i. Group of confident young people planning business strategy while looking

Recently, I consulted with the staff of a community-based organization working in housing and family support. Their goal was to make sense of their existing program data and use it to better align their education and workforce development programs. To help them work toward this goal, we conducted a Data Walk — an active, visual way to engage key stakeholders with data that often results in new perspectives.

Preparing and facilitating a data walk
There are multiple approaches to data walks, all of which are based on your goals, needs, and the types of data you’re working with. This organization was interested in using data they had already gathered as part of their planning process. To prepare for the walk, we cut tables and charts from their existing reports and pasted them onto poster paper, which we then organized by program and year, labeled with a marker, and displayed on the walls. Then, teams of 3-4 were given markers and asked to literally walk through the data in the room, writing their take-aways and comments directly on the poster paper. Every few minutes, we rotated the teams so they could view each poster.

Throughout the exercise, the participants asked a lot of questions about each program’s data, interpreted the data, explained how their current program design contributed to what they were seeing, and even suggested ways to improve data reporting. For example, as a result of the walk, they recognized that one issue was resulting in two different measures: students leaving courses because they got jobs and students leaving courses because their work schedule changed. By analyzing and discussing the data, they were able to name that common issue — workplace issues affecting learning — and combine the two measures into one that addressed the responsiveness of the program to the needs of working learners.

Why data walks are effective
The design of a data walk is meant to both encourage collaboration and allow for new insights into data. The set up was easy, and because the data was their own, staff took ownership of it.
The casual presentation made the participants more comfortable writing on and interacting with the materials, and that interactive, hands-on process allowed staff to not only speak about their own programs but also develop insights into how other programs work — which helped everyone collaborate on how to better align across programs. Because the program staff also highlighted important themes during the walk, we were able to address those themes in our planning process, and staff were able to recognize them in the planning exercises we developed as a result of the process. Finally, the data walk was so easy to set up that staff left with an intention to do it on their own on an ongoing basis.

Do you think a data walk might be right for your program? If you have questions or want to set up a data walk of your own, please contact me.

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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