As the number of cities building citywide afterschool systems continues to grow, a new report, “Using Data to Strengthen Afterschool Planning, Management, and Strategy” from The Wallace Foundation examines eight cities that established a management information system (MIS) to design and support the use of data in afterschool programs; including Denver, Colorado.
The National League of Cities (NLC) spoke with Maxine Quintana, the Director of Out-of-School-Time Initiatives for the City and County of Denver, Colorado. Quintana supports the Denver Afterschool Alliance (DAA), the citywide intermediary working to increase access to quality afterschool programs.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NLC: Why was it important for Denver to develop an afterschool data system?
Quintana: To increase access to programs, we had to understand the afterschool landscape, starting with where programs were located, who they serve, what they offer and more. In the mid-1990’s we developed our first data platform using a simple survey tool to gather very basic information from providers.
In 2012, DAA worked with several partners to develop goals for the MIS to map programs and raise awareness for families searching for afterschool options; to connect programs to schools in need; and to provide access to school district data so providers could show their impact and keep their doors open. With the hook of providing access to school district data, the current MIS system grew and includes over 500 organizations with more than 2000 programs.
NLC: Which stakeholders did you engage to develop your afterschool data system?
Quintana: Afterschool providers have been engaged from the start. We convened focus groups, conducted interviews and surveys to learn what organizations needed and wanted from a MIS. The responses shaped our expansion plan to include a more user friendly mapping/search engine; continued data exchange with the school district; the inclusion of other data sets so that information could be more easily collected and analyzed; and an online program registration and attendance tracking system to cut down on the manual work, minimize errors, improve record keeping and provide detailed attendance tracking down to the activity level.
NLC: How did you obtain buy-in from the stakeholders – especially providers?
Quintana: DAA has had great success with partners participating with our MIS. We have 500 plus agencies included in our mapping/search engine. Organizations opted into the system without financial incentives or forced mandate because they saw the benefits of being included. Benefits include families finding programs more easily, host organizations/schools finding program partners, and being able to identify gaps and opportunities for future programming. Providing access to school district data on the youth they served has also helped provide incentive for participation.
NLC: What has your data system told you about your afterschool program landscape that you didn’t know before?
Quintana: In Denver, we have significantly increased the number of sites in our MIS system, which means that number of sites that receive an observational score or administer a youth perception tool have gone up. Now most afterschool programs use a common measurement framework. This allows us to measure the impact of DAA, track our efforts, and communicate the benefits of afterschool to stakeholders. For example, we can measure and track indicators such as: percentage of youth who report having a trusted adult; percentage of youth who report making friends in afterschool; and number of sites that have improved their youth development practices.
NLC: Have you made any changes to your afterschool system as a result of the MIS data?
Quintana: Our biggest accomplishment is the completion of an annual evaluation of our core, comprehensive partners (i.e. Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Denver Public Schools, etc.). The MIS system has allowed organizations to have a common data collection and analysis process. Now DAA can effectively show the benefits of afterschool programming on youth, families, schools and communities and connect outcomes to primary goals within the City and school district. This alignment has allowed for deeper partnerships, joint fundraising and created a platform to engage other stakeholders.
NLC: What are 3 tips for city leaders who are thinking of building an afterschool data system?
Quintana: One, developing an MIS is an ambitious endeavor. Take a tiered approach. For example, collecting providers directory level information (e.g. locations, number of youth served, number of hours offered) could help your community build a map of afterschool providers.
Two, build carrots into your system to encourage participation and engagement with the system. In Denver, some grants require use of our MIS. Providers who use our MIS are also granted access to school district data.
Three, as your system expands, ensure that there is a way to educate your users. In Denver, we have a dedicated staff that onboards users, educates them and provides ongoing technical support.