5 building blocks to an analytics culture

Insights Article - 5 building blocks analytics ecosystem

Key takeaways

  • Employ data-informed decision making
  • Create systems and structure to support an analytics culture
  • Help people within the institution understand the importance of data insights

Technologies such as cloud computing, advanced business intelligence systems, and visual analytics have redefined what community colleges can do with data, how fast they can do it, and how readily they can share and apply it. We have only begun to explore the possibilities, says Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.

“However, the greatest data and analytics in the world won’t have any effect if they don’t fuel a decision or change something. That requires a culture—an ecosystem—where everyone involved understands, values, and demands fact- based decisions and strategies.”

Prior to her position with Achieving the Dream, Stout was president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. During her 14 years as president there, the college developed an analytics ecosystem. 

“There were five building blocks to that ecosystem; an ecosystem developed so that you can use analytics to begin to aggregate data. It’s a system in which an institution can use qualitative research to look at what it has just aggregated and examine the pain points of the data to develop interventions and solutions. That is a whole process.”

The first of the five building blocks is leadership. Stout says, “From a leadership perspective, you must have a strong mission that explicitly states that the organization values the use of data in decision making. Data informed decision making—it’s something you look for in hiring new staff, that you build a leadership team around. You help members of your board develop those skills, and you commit to helping faculty engage with the data.”

“The second building block is strong strategic and annual planning systems that are aligned, that have activities and goals and big ideas connected to mission-centric outcomes,” says Stout. “All kinds of metrics came out that started at an aggregate level but then could be infused into program analytics.” For example, the college used annual program report cards and reviews to see how students were moving through programs to help them adjust and ensure program completion.

“The third building block is systems and structure that support an analytics ecosystem. From a structure perspective, that means, how do the Institutional Effectiveness office and the IT office work together in a collaborative way? That success requires collaboration between those areas.” Stout believes that a committed leader must be present. “It’s important to have the leader reporting directly to the president, being part of the decision-making body and really understanding that every decision is about a process and the data implication to it. When colleges are trying to build an analytics culture, they often forget that. You can’t design that culture on the back end of a decision. That work has to happen in parallel with your decision making.”

Technology tools are the fourth building block, Stout adds. “An organization must determine which tools it will be using. From my perspective, selecting the tools requires first an acknowledgement that it’s about disseminating the data in such a way that the IT organization isn’t the gatekeeper of the information; rather, the IT organization helps disseminate the data in ways that are visual, in ways that they can be manipulated so that deans, for example, and others on the ground can make decisions based on their ability to dig into the data on their own.”

Finally, Stout says the fifth building block is helping people within the institution understand the importance of data. “It is not just about the importance of data but the importance of pulling insights out of data rather than starting with the data, and then building interventions that may or may not be connected to solving the big problem. You have to look at the analytics, and then you have to build structures and systems to support what you’re finding from the analytics."

KAREN A. STOUT, President and CEO, Achieving the Dream
A nationally regarded community college leader, Dr. Karen Stout has served as president and CEO of Achieving the Dream since July 2015. She was named one of higher education’s most innovative leaders in 2016 by Washington Monthly magazine. Prior to joining Achieving the Dream, Karen served as president of Montgomery County Community College (Pa.) for more than 14 years.

Meet the authors

Need support? We're always here to help!


Your one-stop shop for product documentation, assistance, training, and much more.