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Data Collection: Learning to Love the Numbers

Data Collection


A few years ago I would have never imagined having any interest in data. It wasn’t until I actually started doing research and using data that I realized it was something I really enjoyed. Even so, I will be the first to admit that working with data isn’t always all that exciting. While it can yield fascinating and important results, the process to get to these results can often be tedious. However, I have come to realize that data is absolutely vital to effecting change.

Without data, it is difficult to know what challenges are faced by a certain community, who is being affected, and to what extent. Data is also a very important tool in making policymakers aware of community problems and is what often leads to changes in policy and practice. For instance, the Campaign for Paid Family Leave contracted the Institute for Women’s Policy Research to perform an actuarial analysis for implementing paid family leave in Connecticut. The data provided by the study affirmed the Campaign’s recommendations for paid family leave.

Another thing I had not thought much about was how complicated the processes surrounding data use and access can be. In my experiences as an intern and student researcher, I had always either been given a data set to work with or had a pre-established source from which to collect my data; I never had to do any of the leg work. I recently attended a conference on open data in Connecticut hosted by the Connecticut Data Collaborative. This experience really opened my eyes to many of the challenges of working with data, and many things that I had not really considered before. I heard people from organizations such as Norwalk Acts, the Middlesex Coalition for Children, and the Capitol Region Education Council, as well as various state and local offices discuss the power of data and why access to data is so important.

I attended two workshops at the conference, both of which really stuck out to me and helped to shape my perspective around data. The first one discussed the pros and cons of administrative and survey data. I had always only worked with survey data, and never explored or even really considered working with administrative data – it just wasn’t something I knew much about. Did you know survey response rates are declining? Administrative data can be used to fill this gap – but it is certainly not without its challenges. Unlike survey data in which you choose a measure or create questions that fit your needs, administrative data is collected for a different purpose and will not have a straightforward answer to your research question. When you want to use administrative data, you have some decisions to make. Which agency has the information you need? And which pieces of their expansive data sets would be most useful in answering your question?

But even after you’ve answered these questions, what if you discover that your question requires data from more than one agency? That’s where Public Act 15-142: An Act Improving Data Security and Agency Effectiveness (which CWEALF provided testimony for last year) comes in. One of the provisions of this legislation is that the Office of Policy and Management will be able to connect data sets from multiple agencies and provide them to researchers, which brings me to the second workshop I attended. This was an “unconference” where we worked in groups to refine research questions that would require multiple data sources and thus utilize PA 15-142I soon discovered how complicated it really is. My group was discussing a question about how foster youth fare in school, which is a topic that I recently wrote my undergraduate thesis on.  I now understand why I found it difficult to find good evidence on how foster youth perform academically, Not only is the question much more complex than it appears, with many variables that can be defined in several different ways, but it requires administrative data from multiple state agencies.

One of the things that PA 15-142 seeks to do is make it easier to obtain data from multiple sources in order to better answer some of these important policy questions. After all, if we don’t have solid data on how Connecticut residents are faring, how do we know if there are intervention programs that need to be created or policy changes that need to be made?


Research & Evaluation Intern: 

CWEALF is seeking a full year undergraduate or graduate intern who is passionate about research and social justice to support our Research and Evaluation Program. Responsibilities primarily involve working on the evaluation of the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. This position is paid at a rate of $15 per hour. Applications are accepted and considered on a rolling basis through early August 2016. Read more about the internship.

By Kayla Theriault, Research & Evaluation Intern at 13 Jul 2016, 09:55 AM



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