Access to and use of accurate data on school performance can improve education outcomes. In the past decade, governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs, and other actors around the world have made concerted efforts to put a range of data into the hands of government officials, including education administrators and teachers. However, we know from behavioral science that access to data alone doesn’t guarantee it will be put into action. In 2020, ideas42 partnered with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to determine how to enhance the impact of education data usage in South Africa.
In 2013, the Department of Basic Education in South Africa, in partnership with the Dell Foundation, launched the Data Driven Districts (DDD) dashboard. This tool enables education administrators to positively impact learners through the ability to make data-driven decisions, from identifying and working with teachers with high absentee rates to identifying low-performing schools and developing targeted interventions to improve their performance. Although there were numerous examples of administrators using the dashboard to inform their decision-making, the DDD implementation team wanted to further its impact by increasing uptake and utilization of the tool.
In partnership with the DDD implementation team and the Dell Foundation, we explored the behavioral barriers that prevent education officials, particularly at the circuit level, from using the dashboard efficiently and effectively. From conducting in-depth interviews with education administrators, as well as observing how users navigate the dashboard, we identified several key barriers that could impede successful use of the tool. For example, decision-makers have limited attention, which is already split over multiple tasks and can prevent them from fully investing in understanding how tools like the DDD Dashboard can be utilized. In addition, administrators hold firm mental models about data tools, often perceiving them as difficult to learn and as being outside of their responsibility.
In order to address the identified barriers to adoption of the DDD Dashboard, we came up with a set of recommendations, including:
- Focus on capturing the attention of administrators by clearly demonstrating how the dashboard can save them time and effort, while improving their performance.
- Shift administrators’ mental models to frame data-driven, quantitative tools as support tools rather than a burden.
Our full set of recommendations can be found here.
As data tools permeate more areas, they have the potential to drastically improve decisions and outcomes. However, our findings suggest that making data available to decision-makers is not enough for the data to be acted upon; it’s also crucial to design systems for use in the context of their work. This highlights why those implementing data systems need to not only think through data collection and display, but also create an environment for users to adopt these tools and translate the data into informed actions.