How to Make the Best Use of District Data

District budgets, performance management tools, scorecards & dashboards, Key Performance Indicators, etc. These are all important terms when speaking of executing high level district finance and operations strategies. However, albeit important, are they useful?

Three or so years ago, Harvard Business Review put out an article entitled, “Good Data Won’t Guarantee Good Decisions.” They spoke about a firm who evaluated 5,000 employees at 22 global companies on their ability to analyze and use data. Their results were rather astounding. First, even though these organizations had access to very good information, they found approximately only 38% of employees and 60% of senior executives possess the skills necessary to make good data-driven decisions. In addition, there were several problems they found organizations face which prevent them from finding the best return on an investment in big data. Here are some succinctly:

  • The skills necessary are esoteric and aren’t distributed to all in need of these skills
  • Like a library without catalog or book covers, many organizations have a lot of information but not a structure for accessing it effectively
  • Many managers aren’t closing the gap between the data available and providing employees the right tools, understanding, and skills necessary to use it.

Hopefully, the gears are churning a bit in relating this content back to the education industry, and how districts are similarly affected. With state measurement tools, business analytical systems, and other types of accessible data, the right information is finally eliciting itself. However, this is just the first step. What districts must do now is learn how to weave these information systems into district business culture.

catalogTo help solve this for districts, we can look at the way Corporate Executive Board, who ran the study mentioned above, found two ways organizations can make better use of big data. The say the first is to “train workers to increase their data literacy and more efficiently incorporate information into decision making,” and second, “is giving those workers the right tools.” To unpack this a little bit, one possibility is to incorporate performance metrics into job objectives, making it an integral part of one’s job. Once this is in place, we can then think about creating tools in a usable format for workers. CEB said from their study, “Half of all employees find that information from corporate sources is in an unusable format.” Wow. If this is not informative, what is! What they need are tools enabling them to view information in a more practical way, such as measures, charts, and graphs.

Given the climate of the educational financial state, there is no better time to at least begin thinking of ways to integrate business analytics into district job objectives, culture, and process. We see more and more district leaders who are jumping aboard with urgency, as they have identified the need and how to attack it. A industry-wide need is beckoned to be filled though. The solutions are out there, but more willingness in reaching out to find them will make larger positive shifts in changing the education financial climate.


Shah, S., Horne, A., & Capella, J. (2012). Good Data Won’t Guarantee Good Decisions. Harvard Business Review, Volume 90 (4), p. 23-25. 

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