A management information system is not, primarily, a technology project. It is a process of aligning the goals and resources of a great number of afterschool stakeholders, where technology plays an important supportive role. Successful cities have generally undertaken each of the following tasks, described in greater detail in the MIS Readiness Checklist in Section 2 (pdf) of the report:
- Gather the right partners: Cities often get started by convening key stakeholders to forge a common vision about how to expand afterschool programming in a way that aligns with other local objectives. These partners typically also designate a coordinating entity that is charged with executing the strategy and managing day-to-day operations.
- Clarify information needs: City leaders will want to ensure that the partners involved in this process have a clearly articulated vision for how better data would improve what they are able to do for young people in the community. Identifying what questions need to be answered, for whom, and to what end will ensure that the development of an MI system will lead to better policies, programs and services for youth and their families.
- Conduct a self-inventory: City leaders may first ask what information systems and reporting relationships already exist. It is increasingly rare that any city is in a position to create a management information system from scratch. Many citywide systems develop through a process of evolution rather than revolution.
- Develop shared measures and outcomes: By creating a "data dictionary," establishing common benchmarks, and harmonizing reporting requirements, city leaders create more efficient afterschool systems that are better aligned with citywide strategies for youth development.
- Describe the high-level business requirements: A description of how each of the participants in a city's afterschool network - administrators, agencies, providers and evaluators - will need to use the MIS provides city leaders with both the criteria for selecting a vendor and a system specification to guide that company's work.
- Design the network and establish information sharing agreements: Decisions about where to host, link and aggregate data, what role schools or external consultants play in evaluation, and who administers the software can lead cities to design very different "network architectures."
- Pilot the system: To troubleshoot the inevitable glitches, build trust, and win advocates, city coordinating entities often opt to pilot MI systems with a limited number of their most enthusiastic providers.
- Expand and regularize: Many of the challenges uncovered during the pilot stage, such as an ongoing need for training, inconsistent definition of basic terms like "attendance," and varying levels of data quality among providers, lead cities to explore different strategies for expanding their network and creating mechanisms for continuous improvement.
Download Section 2: MIS Readiness Checklist