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  • Anjali Chainani & Vaughn Ross

Three Ways to Be a Data-Driven Leader

Written by Anjali Chainani & Vaughn Ross

The Emerging Leaders Corps is a program hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia research and policy initiative in partnership with Anavi Strategies and Rvesta Consulting. The program is part of Pew's Philadelphia's Fiscal Future work, supported in part by the William Penn Foundation, to support an equitable and inclusive local economy and a city where all residents can thrive.

Over eight sessions, the Emerging Leaders Corps curated content to support data-based decision-making in local government and the civic sector for emerging leaders who are passionate about policy, public finance, and innovative solutions.

“Data-driven” has become something of a buzzword, and the word ‘research’ is often applied to a wide range of activities: browsing the internet for a few hours, taking mental note of your neighborhood’s social characteristics, or routinely inquiring about pantry needs at the local food bank. Social research, however, has specific goals that can be achieved only by using systematic procedures.

As designers and administrators of The Emerging Leaders Corps, we wanted to ensure program participants gained tangible skills and real practice in how to use data. This includes how to conduct peer-city comparisons, understand and interpret promising practices, and, most importantly, ground their visions for the future of Philadelphia with metrics that will enable them to use a data-driven approach to measure success.

"The speed-dating experience gave us a chance to get additional insight and ask experts questions, while hearing the thought process of our peers. The exercise was an effective and efficient way to discuss multi-layered research topics."

Rashon Howard, Business Development Director, 1847Financial

To advance these session goals, we invited researchers from the Pew to participate in an exercise we dubbed “speed data-ing.”

Each Pew researcher was stationed at a table with her/his special focus areas identified; the Emerging Leaders rotated from table to table in small groups. After a set period of open-ended discussion time, the Emerging Leaders rotated to another researcher’s table and, over the course of the session, had a chance to engage with multiple Pew researchers. Not only was this exercise fun, but it led to identifying three practical ways leaders can ensure they are being data-driven.

Data -driven leaders ask clear and focused questions

In preparation for the session, we asked the Emerging Leaders to identify data-related questions to ask the researchers. The smart and thoughtful questions they asked included:

  • Can you give examples of research methods that have been especially useful in your work?

  • What have been the biggest challenges you've come across in using research to inform policy-making?

  • How do you know what data to include or exclude from your research?

  • Can you give an example of a time when you found a question unanswerable because the data did not exist or would be too difficult to gather?

  • How do you balance using qualitative vs. quantitative research?

  • How should policymakers who aren't experts in a field use data?

Data-driven leaders must ensure there is a clear and focused question they’d like to answer, where that data will come from, and who will benefit as a result of the analysis in question. Through this exercise, the emerging leaders learned how to find the appropriate and relevant data sources to answer the questions they have.

Data-driven leaders seek perspective and knowledge from diverse sources

Speed data-ing provided a structured environment for the Emerging Leaders to exchange knowledge about best practices for data collection with a range of researchers working across diverse fields. They also had the opportunity to better understand what kinds of analyses are possible to measure the success of their vision statements, to identify key sources of data, and to gain comfort and competency in using data and research to inform policy-making and benchmark progress over time.

“One key takeaway from our speed data-ing session was the importance of asking questions, questions like ‘Who’s producing the data?’ ‘What’s their methodology?’ ‘How is this prompt or question worded?’ Interrogating data in an informed, responsible way can deepen our understanding of the issue at hand and lead to more thorough, accurate analyses.”

Rachel Kurlander, Associate Director, Office of Government and Community Affairs University of Pennsylvania

Data-driven leaders have a vision, and a purpose

By the end of the Emerging Leader Corps program, each emerging leader workshopped and delivered a pitch to present their personal vision for the future of Philadelphia. After all, a data-driven leader needs to take responsibility for defining a use case for data that will deliver real benefits for communities, as well as to the organization or agency. This program helped Emerging Leaders understand how data is generated, and how they can utilize it to support and challenge ideas and theories.

“What I loved about the speed data-ing exercise is that it gave me a new way to initiate conversations, share knowledge, and determine next steps in such a nifty (and fun!) way. It’s a great vehicle to harness and share expertise among a group of people.”

Danita Reese, Lead Service Design Strategist, City of Philadelphia

Over the eight session program, Emerging Leaders were able to establish connections with well-established and experienced researchers, share ideas, think critically, and build trust among one another. We want to give a big thanks to The Pew Charitable Trusts for demystifying data and research!

Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative Researchers

Larry Eichel Senior Advisor

Thomas Ginsberg Senior Officer

Mari Gonzalez, Senior Associate

Jason Hachadorian Officer

Octavia Howell Manager

Jun Ho Phue Associate

Katie Martin Project Director

Complete bios for each of these researchers, as well as more information on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research and policy initiative can be found here.

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