A More Holistic Approach to Social Problem-Solving Requires Interagency Collaboration

Silicon Valley, California

Silicon Valley, California


Connecting state and local government leaders

Researchers and governments have teamed up through the Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust to craft better public policy and metrics.

The economic and other consequences of poor academic achievement are evident across the U.S. and not insignificantly present in one of the most technologically advanced regions in the nation, Silicon Valley.

While ongoing efforts attempt to address these issues, data are typically siloed in vertical systems—juvenile justice, health, education and social services—or are project-based and cannot provide solutions at a systemic level.

Because solving complex social problems will require the implementation of complex sets of interventions and programs across educational and and human service sectors, data must be shared across agency lines.

For example, education research informs us that 70 percent of variance in student academic performance is attributable to non-school factors, including home and community. Consequently, to determine how to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students, particularly those from at-risk communities, we need to be able to analyze data, not only from schools, but also from agencies that provide health and social services to children and families.

The Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust (SVRDT) will provide an information-sharing environment with rich resources from which scientists can perform research to answer complex sets of questions to solve problems of poor academic performance and income inequality for culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Researchers working closely with practitioners in education, health and human services will have the opportunity for the first time to address issues at policy, systems and individual levels. As a research hub for regional cooperation, SVRDT will inform innovation and will serve as a replicable model for educators, academic researchers and practitioners in the fields of health and human services and juvenile justice.

The SVRDT is built on a foundation of ethical, legal and technological trust among stakeholders from the three counties of the Silicon Valley who contribute data: public schools; health and human services and juvenile justice agencies; and the children, families, and communities they serve. The SVRDT is committed to ensuring that data, a public resource, will be used to serve the public good and provides a secure, data-sharing environment that informs policy, supports research, improves service effectiveness and efficiency, enhances interagency collaboration and is focused on improving outcomes for communities.

Fields ranging from consumer services to cancer treatment employ data science in research contributing to dramatic advances. However, educational research has not yielded conclusive answers to either fundamental educational questions or to numerous specific questions on which answers to fundamental questions can be built.

A barrier to advancing research in education and related fields has been the absence of sufficiently comprehensive data sets and data infrastructures that support cutting-edge research.

Legal and technical barriers have long hindered the ability to integrate student academic and human services–related data. These efforts have further been complicated by how these systems function independently of each other. Even though these systems share a significant number of students—and often the most at-risk students are being served in multiple, disconnected systems—understanding the extent of the overlap is difficult.

School personnel often doesn't know which students might be dealing with issues ranging from juvenile probation to mental health issues. Health and human services and juvenile justice agencies often lack a clear and timely picture of how children in services are faring in school, including their grades, attendance and disciplinary records.

Supporting timely integration across these systems will not only result in better service delivery for children, but it will also help policymakers answer critical policy and program questions about what works, for whom and at what cost.

The SVRDT approach is unique in its focus on first centralizing and conforming school district data from the 66 districts that serve the 400,000 students in the region in the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s “DataZone” data warehouse.

Given the lack of data standards across districts’ student information systems and the resource challenges inherent in collecting conformed data from multiple districts, a central education data warehouse addresses one of the most challenging aspects affecting the success of cross-agency data sharing efforts. Unlike municipal data sets tied to social services, public health, juvenile justice, early childhood providers, and workforce development, education data sets tied to compulsory education laws for all children are more inclusive of all children in a community.

Using pre-K-12 school data as a foundational data set is a strong first step in creating a comprehensive central repository that, when combined with other municipal data sets with appropriate legal and security protocols, could inform regional policy-driven research and practice and lead to better outcomes for children. By linking these administrative records, the DataZone has the granularity of information necessary to address persistent and pressing education issues and to provide equitable access to high-quality data for all districts and schools in the region, regardless of size and resources.   

The research and development team of the SVRDT includes the IJIS Institute, Stewards of Change, University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the Santa Clara County Office of Education. We have also partnered with 18 education, health/human service and juvenile justice agencies across the counties of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Mateo. Our multi-disciplinary, interagency teams will align services and resources to students and families.

The 2016 California Assembly Resolution, AR 120, designates the SVRDT as a statewide model for integrated data-sharing and cross-agency collaboration and a 2017 AB 597 will support cross-county data sharing among the tri-county region served by the SVRDT.

Early progress in centralizing education data has been funded by the Santa Clara County Board of Education and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and has allowed integration of 24 districts’ data, representing over half of the region’s students in the DataZone education data warehouse.

Data-sharing from these early adopters is already yielding impact in a unique FosterVision pilot that integrates nightly data flows from school districts, juvenile probation and foster youth services. FosterVision provides immediate access to authorized personnel from each of the agencies about shared students who may be justice-involved youth or foster youth.

Though a small subset of the 270,000 students in the county, these youths are among the highest at-risk populations, and never before have all three agencies had nightly refreshes of data involving these shared youth.

DataZone’s central role as the hub for the SVRDT is a unique approach that hasn’t yet been duplicated in any other Instructional Design Model, as few other regions have the expertise in pre-K-12 education data warehousing that is a core competency of the SVRDT team.

As the SVRDT evolves, its secure information sharing environment will provide the foundation for informing public policy and agency programs and practices. We hope that its existence will deepen the use of data by fostering a culture that empowers educators and health and human service professionals to work with university researchers to develop innovative metrics.

We believe it will broaden the use of data for social good by providing a model of regional interagency collaboration and data-sharing.

Marcy Lauck is the senior director of data governance at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, as well as the co-founder and co-director of the Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust.

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