It’s never too early to talk about the importance of bringing more diverse voices into data to drive policy design and impact the wellbeing of our communities.
In late April, during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions, we were invited to connect virtually with a group of outstanding students from the Heritage Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their teacher, Christine Selby, coordinates the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, where students prepare for college by practicing the collaboration, inquiry, organization, and literacy skills they will need for success in their academic and professional careers.
Data for Decision-Making Beyond the Classroom
Our work of building meaningful representation in data for decision-making activities has primarily focused on adults (e.g. a new project on ocean data for decision-making and ongoing efforts on data for decision-making in other areas). Discussing these issues with a group of high school seniors was new and incredibly thought provoking. Students shared first-hand experiences surrounding the complexities of the opioid crisis, how many voices and communities are either not included or entirely invisible in official data, and the implications of the lack of representation in the communities affected by the crisis.
High school courses rarely focus on how ineffective policy is often the result of poor representation in data creation and use. It was clear through the students’ examples that increasing voices in data for decision-making is highly relevant to their academic and personal experiences. Local policies are often aimed at families, yet students who are impacted directly by both community issues and community policies rarely have the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about those policies. “I know my students are leaders. They have ideas and vision for themselves and their communities,” says Selby.
Data is not perfect. Data is not neutral. Data can be broken into many parts. These were some of the final takeaways by the students. Knowledge creation and policy-making affects all professional fields. “By equipping students to critically evaluate data and consider how and when to use it, my hope is they will continue to develop a view of themselves as decision makers and see data as one tool in their belt as they chisel a better world,” says Selby. Data interpretation will be more accurate, resulting in more relevant solutions, by encouraging a mutual learning dialogue between those creating policy and those who are impacted by it.
Participating in the Heritage Academy AVID program equips students with the skills necessary to be leaders in their chosen careers. Even from our brief interaction, we are confident that we were interacting with future leaders who are passionate about creating change and building representation that creates well-informed policy. Teachers at Heritage Academy and educators like them work tirelessly to meet the unique challenges of this time. We want to thank the Heritage AVID program for inviting us to learn together and engage with students on topics that are not conventionally taught in high schools.