New NLC Toolkit on Using Management Information Systems to Build Stronger Afterschool Systems

Building Management Information Systems to Coordinate Citywide Afterschool Programs
September 17, 2012

By Chris Kingsley

A major new report developed by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) offers city leaders a detailed guide for building management information systems in order to coordinate local afterschool programs more effectively.

Over the past decade, municipal leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to develop comprehensive, citywide afterschool systems that expand the number of high-quality programs available, increase youth participation, and improve outcomes for young people. To obtain better information about the scope and impact of afterschool opportunities in their communities, city officials are increasingly developing management information systems to collect, analyze and share data on local programs.

Developed with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The Wallace Foundation, the new YEF Institute report, Building Management Information Systems to Coordinate Citywide Afterschool Programs: A Toolkit for Cities, includes a wealth of information and advice for city leaders and a growing library of online resources, including:

  • A summary of the top four uses of management information systems that support high-quality afterschool programs, gleaned from dozens of conversations with city leaders across the country;
  • A "how-to" manual, including straightforward instructions for sourcing, implementing and expanding a management information system, illustrated with city examples;
  • Strategies for negotiating privacy and security concerns, including an update on the December 2011 rule-making by the U.S. Department of Education that eases some of the burden on cities and school districts; and
  • A feature comparison of six leading commercial MIS vendors that includes a cost calculator to help city leaders estimate the one- and five-year costs of these various products.

Also available online are a model request for information, sample data sharing agreements, afterschool needs assessments, and links to resources published by NLC policy partners and member cities.

Using Data to Improve Citywide Afterschool Systems

Comprehensive, citywide afterschool systems have emerged in several dozen communities across the country as a promising strategy for improving the safety, health and academic preparedness of children and youth. A 2011 report by the YEF Institute, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, described how city leaders in these communities are partnering with school districts, foundations and nonprofit providers to coordinate and expand access to high-quality programs. Research reports by Child Trends and the Harvard Family Research Project, as well as evaluations of specific city systems, have proven just how valuable these programs are to improving outcomes for young people.

Yet cities often lack the data needed to answer basic questions about the scope and impact of local afterschool programs and systems, such as: 

  • How many children are being served?
  • What proportion of programs are of high quality?
  • Do children from underserved neighborhoods have access to these programs?
  • What impact do programs have on specific youth outcomes or broader citywide goals, such as public safety and college and career readiness?
  • What is the city's return on investment in afterschool? 

Of all the challenges associated with strengthening afterschool systems, lack of reliable information to answer these questions is the most pressing, according to surveys of city officials conducted by the YEF Institute in 2010 and 2011.

To address this challenge, cities need to develop technologies to track, store, and correlate data on youth participation across dozens of organizations. They depend on networks of skilled professionals to share, analyze, and act on that information. In many cities, these systems do not yet exist or are only partially complete.

Building these systems requires a broadly collaborative effort to determine what information to collect and how to use it, how to negotiate data sharing agreements without violating privacy laws, and whether to build or buy the technology "backbone" that will support the many service providers, managers, and researchers that need access to that data to make better decisions.

This report describes a number of the most promising approaches to building afterschool management information systems. It is a compendium of "what works," containing numerous examples of efforts led by different city departments, nonprofit intermediaries, schools and foundations.

The YEF Institute will also host a free webinar, "Strengthening Citywide Afterschool Opportunities: Harnessing the Power of Data," in conjunction with The Wallace Foundation on September 18 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. To register, visit myNLC.  An archived recording will be available at myNLC within several days of the webinar.

Details: To download the full report, visit www.nlc.org/afterschoolmis. For more information and to receive early notification of new resources and other upcoming webinars focused on this topic, please contact Chris Kingsley, senior associate for data initiatives, at (202) 626-3160 or kingsley@nlc.org.