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Kaleidoscope of Data (Part 4)

Apr 20, 2011

In any decision-making process, information is the key element. It defines the scope of the issue at hand, sculpts perspective and in essence dictates potential action. With that being said, it is imperative for decision-makers to insure they are critical, comprehensive and insightful on how they manage the information they use in whatever decision-making process they are engaged whether it be planning, implementing or assessing programs, practices or protocol.

Virtually every issue we confront in our environment is dynamic and multi-dimensional, fluid and interdependent requiring decisions, whatever they may be, to reflect that very same level of interconnectivity. To reinforce this thinking let me ask you how many times have you heard yourself or others for that matter say “there is simply no easy answer to that question?” If you are like me, that response seems to be the rule rather than the exception in most issues. Not only are today’s issues complex, they are, like our modern-day environment, global in scope and sequence. For example, how often have you thought that one decision made ignited a domino effect on all kinds of other issues some that were in your field of vision and others that came out of nowhere to impact things you did not even know were connected? Yep, welcome to the dynamic world of decision-making. No “easy button” to be found!

At this point I am not sure that there is an answer to this challenge of making quality decisions in a complex environment, but there are definitely strategies that can provide support. We have been tugging at this image of a kaleidoscope for a while now and I hope you have at least gained some comfort with that image as a model for thinking about how information interacts and causes shifts in reality at different points in time. Last time we talked briefly about how we might use our model to strategically create opportunities for specific information to interact thereby exerting some control over that delicate balance of interactive data.

Suppose now we took an even deeper look at that possibility. Victoria Barnhart has produced a thinking frame that might be useful for our discussion here. She is one of several educational thinkers who have spent much time pondering this challenge. She has produced categories of information that impact educational decision-making that fit very well into our model. In her process there are four spheres of information that all interact in the arena of educational decision-making.

Each of these spheres represents specific kinds of information:

  1. Demographic
  2. Perception
  3. Achievement
  4. School process

They overlap each other and create areas where one or more of the spheres share the same space, they are interconnected. In that image there are areas where each sphere has its own defined space and there are areas of connectivity where two spheres overlap, some where three overlap and one place where all four overlap.

Let’s stop here for a moment and think a little more deeply about this image. What do these individual spheres bring to the decision-making process? How do they interact? What role could they play if set into our kaleidoscope where we could turn the lens and watch them interact? The demographic sphere represents the community we serve, the diversity of people, their needs, their goals. It focuses on the who will be impacted by our decision. The perception sphere represents the beliefs of those we serve, how they see themselves and how they see us as we interact with them. The achievement sphere represents our results you know the assessments scores and the success levels of our student within the place we call school. The school process sphere represents the organization, the school and how it supports the work, manages the time and resources available filtered through the roles, rituals and routines of the staff. Within each of these spheres and alive within the areas in which these spheres overlap there exists rich and valuable information, data about who we are, what we do and how we can succeed. In each sphere there is discrete information, like number of students, age, race, social economic condition of students and families. There is data on what people believe about what is important to them and their children. There is a plethora of information on whether students demonstrate achievement across multiple assessment tools and procedures. There are the hard number lines of how many staff and what resources exist within the organization, together with a seemingly endless set of questions of how to allocate those resources.

What is most important however to quality decision-making is being able to figure out how all of these pieces fit together. Understanding how they relate to and act upon each other. In the model this is where the spheres overlap. These are the convergent zones where who we are, what we believe how we respond and are supported interact. That is where issues, beliefs and needs comes face to face and truly impact decisions.

In our final session we will look at how we can use this dynamic information to produce insight. We will explore how the image of our kaleidoscope can help us integrate these spheres and generate pictures that inform our thinking and practice.

Until next time!

Category: explanatory

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