Since 1998, First Place For Youth has worked to help foster youth build the skills they need to make the successful transition to self-sufficiency and responsible adulthood.
Data collection and performance management tracking is part of the culture at First Place For Youth. They use data to not only prove results, but also to make real-time improvements to their programs and to codify best practices.
Why First Place For Youth partnered with Project Evident
In late 2017, First Place For Youth was at a critical juncture. They had recently completed the development of an ambitious strategic plan that sought to both ‘demonstrate’ their model and ‘scale’ nationally so more youth transitioning from foster care in more parts of the country could benefit from First Place For Youth’s cornerstone program, My First Place, a housing program supplemented by employment and education supports.
The execution of this plan would require First Place For Youth to reevaluate a number of critical aspects of their organization so that they could understand their impact, quickly make decisions using reliable data, support their staff on the ground, establish the requisite infrastructure to support a national network of service providers delivering the My First Place program, and above all else, do the best they can for their youth.
What happened during our engagement (Part 1)
In the final months of 2017, First Place For Youth worked with Project Evident to develop a Strategic Evidence Plan (SEP) to guide the organization’s activities and investments to accelerate progress towards their strategic goals over the next three to five years. The SEP had three overarching goals:
Improvement – strengthening capacity and practices for continuous improvement, evaluation, and learning across the organization’s national network
Impact – pursuing strategies to evaluate our program model’s impact on education, employment, and housing stability, and assess the benefit/cost;
Influence – aligning development and advocacy with our evidence agenda to promote field-wide standards and evidence-based funding.
A critical component of their improvement and impact efforts was the optimization of data systems and tools to support evaluation and expansion, including increased capacity to integrate data from disparate, external administrative sources, and real-time access to data to support frontline decision-making.
What happened during our engagement (Part 2)
Project Evident rejoined First Place For Youth to provide additional support in optimizing the data systems to meet the infrastructure goals outlined in the first SEP. First Place For Youth discovered that their systems were growing increasingly complex and would require a more sophisticated technological infrastructure to keep up with the strategic goals.
Project Evident uncovered the following overarching issues with the existing data systems:
A lack of strategic coordination
Delegation of data management to the Evaluation and Learning team, which lacked the subject matter expertise to navigate the increasingly challenging data processes
To address these pressing needs, Project Evident recommended that First Place For Youth bring on a dedicated data and technology lead with the experience and expertise to to take ownership of the database projects and to free up the capacity of the Evaluation and Learning team to focus on their own key strategic goals. This new team member would focus on developing internal systems that would pull data from all of First Place for Youth’s internal data collection systems, as well as external data sets, develop the data transfer and transformation processes, and build connections from these systems to reporting services, such as their robust array of dashboards and their predictive modeling caseworker decision support tool.
What’s been the impact of our engagement?
By adopting these changes, First Place For Youth will drastically reduce manualized data management tasks, increase overall data security processes, enable more real-time data reporting, and create mechanisms for the use and replicable analysis of external administrative data sets.
These upgrades will elevate First Place For Youth from a relatively basic level of data sophistication to a more advanced state with enterprise-grade data architecture that can support robust analyses and national scaling activities.