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4 paths to gain buy-in for analytics projects

Higher education analytics leaders speak out on building support.

university-analytics-buyinHave you ever had a great idea for an analytics project only to see it end up in approval purgatory? Or maybe you’ve had some initial successes with analytics and you’re ready to expand a program, but are struggling with new funding?

I talked to four analytics leaders in higher education to get their advice on how to gain buy-in for analytics projects:

1.Western Kentucky University (WKU): Strive for consistency. WKU uses analytics and data visualization software to support institutional research and reporting. With traditional data at their fingertips, leaders are now able to ask more complex questions. It’s no longer, “How many students does WKU have?” It’s more about how WKU can make these students more successful. What are the stumbling blocks for these students, and how can the university alleviate those? Analytics has also helped WKU automate much of its annual fact book.

Gina Huff, senior applications programmer analyst at WKU, believes consistent data quality is critical.

“The one word that comes to mind whenever you want to get more buy-in from your institution is ‘consistency’,” said Huff. “We want to make sure that we build trust. We want to make sure that constituents know that the data that we are going to provide is going to be good data. It’s going to be something that we’ve put a lot of thought and effort into. And it’s going to be something that’s going to hopefully ensure the success of our student body.”

2.Sinclair (OH) Community College: Use high-quality data for action: Sinclair developed a reporting tool to surface general reports and visualizations that are easily consumable by the end users. With a focus on student success initiatives, Sinclair uses analytics to identify at-risk students and the interventions they need to get back on track. In order to increase course completion rates, and ensure students earn labor-market value credentials, Sinclair has deployed analytics tools targeting completion rates and classroom efficiency.

Karl Konsdorf, acting director, research, analytics and reporting at Sinclair Community College says building trust is important, but you must provide information decision makers can act on.

“Number one, I have to make sure that the data is of high quality so people will believe in it and trust it,” said Konsdorf. “But they also must understand it, so data has to be presented in an easily-consumable format.”

Konsdorf continues, “We don’t want just charts and graphs. We want something that’s meaningful, that’s targeted, and an individual chair or faculty can connect with. We want them to connect with the data, just like they would with a student. We make sure the visualizations we present are relatable and actionable.”

(Next page: Data to individuals; the power of instant information)

3.The North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS): Empower individuals. NCCCS uses data visualization to roll out performance measures to 58 colleges and the system office. NCCCS measures its colleges every year for funding, to make sure schools are performing up to standards. NCCCS posts metrics on the web so the colleges can actually see how they’re doing with performance measures, and compare themselves against other colleges. It offers peer-to-peer comparisons showing what’s working and what’s not, provided in near real-time.

Dan Miller, director for business intelligence for NCCCS, says it’s important to empower individuals with data access and generate grassroots support.

“To help generate buy-in for any type of analytical problem or situation, you need to give workers access to the data. If they can get the data, they can answer their own questions and they can become the rock star at the local organization,” said Miller. “We want the people on the ground to have the insights to answer the president’s questions, which makes them the rock star, which has them coming back for more and more analytics.”

4.The University of Connecticut (UConn): Provide instant information. UConn’s implemented a data warehouse and data visualization software to help meet the needs of top executives like the president and provost who require vital information at their fingertips to make decisions. Currently, UConn offers a dashboard including data from student and faculty information systems. However, they plan to add human resource, finance and accounting data, as well as data from a research information system to create a more powerful visual portal.

Sivakumar Jaganathan, executive director of UConn’s data warehouse and business analytics efforts says giving leaders instant information to answer questions makes everyone look good.

“Executives love it when they are sitting at say, a Board of Regents meeting, and can easily pull up evidence-based justification for funding. For instance, they can show that additional resources are required to meet the needs of rapidly growing departments. The analytics bolster their negotiating power,” said Jaganathan.

He adds, “We gain buy-in in the same way. We can go to our provost or president and say, ‘Hey, we are going to expand our services into other areas of the university business.’ We’ve proven our value, so there is no reason for them to deny our request.”

So that’s what these successful analytics leaders believe. What have you found to be effective approaches to gaining buy-in?

Georgia Mariani is Product Marketing Manager for Education for SAS, an analytics and business intelligence provider with nearly four decades of experience working with educational institutions. A 17-year SAS veteran, Mariani works with customers to share best practices, successes and recommendations that enable education institutions to get the most productive insights from their data.