Demand for Data Transparency/Accountability

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This month’s question is answered by Kevork Horissian, Assistant Provost for Institutional Research & Assessment, Bucknell University.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

Dear Kevork: How can our IR office meet the increasing demand for data transparency and accountability with limited staff?

Like many IR/Effectiveness offices at smaller institutions, one of the main challenges we face is the size of our staff. The increasing external demands for reporting, transparency, and accountability, as well as the internal shift in culture to be more data-driven, make serving our internal constituents challenging. Following are some of the practices we have adopted at Bucknell to address those challenges:

  • Reducing the number of ad-hoc reports. It is easier said than done, but we have made some changes and those have shown positive results. While we have no or very limited control over what is requested of us externally, we have more control over directing and managing internal information requests and surveys. Each year, we keep a detailed activity log of all requests that come to our office. At the end of the year, we review the log and group some of the requests in certain categories. The next step is to produce standard reports that will satisfy all the requests under the same category. The benefit of this approach is that it reduces uncertainty and allows our staff to plan our information dissemination well in advance. Some examples of such reports are annual data for admissions and communications offices, faculty and staff hiring information, and diversity information.

  • Utilizing a university-wide survey research calendar and procedures manual. We created guidelines for conducting survey research. I presented those to our senior team (VPs) and Provost's Council and received their endorsement. We also created a survey rotation and created a policy that, unless it is mandated, we administer almost all surveys on a three-year rotation. You can find those at the Bucknell website.

    The initial results indicate that these policies have had positive effects on our response rates, as well as allowing our office to have more control over when survey were administered and reports prepared. Other offices have also become better in referring to and using what we already have before requesting the IR office to administer or adopt new surveys instruments. For the surveys that require our analytical support, we have scheduled most of the work to be done in the summers, when we have more capacity.

  • Developing self-serving tools. We also looked at Bucknell’s strategic plan and the priorities for the Provost’s office and decided to develop several dashboards that would enable us to fulfil multiple data and information requests that would come to us at random times and with very short deadlines. The decision to move to dashboards was based on the following factors: They are interactive, easy to use, and a powerful planning tool. They also empower users to use the data when they need them and for multiple purposes. So far, we have developed the following dashboards: diversity, trustee, student thrive metrics (outcomes), and NSSE. We are in the process of developing campus climate, career placement, strategic planning, peer, STEM, and course distribution. For example, our diversity dashboard allows different constituents to look at student, faculty, and staff data, both historically and for the current year. Users can use numerous filters to make their query very specific or very generic depending on their objectives.

  • Professional development and cross training. While each one of us in the office has a primary area of responsibility, we are also “generalists.” We all learn about research methods, visual display of data, assessment of student learning, data analysis, using our query builder, report writing, etc. Each year, we attend (in person and/or online) numerous professional development activities that help us learn and further develop our skills. This has allowed us to be very flexible in how we assign projects and ensure that we have the resources to be responsive to our clients’ requests.

Initially, the initiatives outlined above created more work for our office. However, our last activity log indicates that, while the ad-hoc requests have dropped, using data in decision making has become more prevalent. Ultimately, our goal is to provide services to Bucknell’s constituents, and the changes we have made in the last several years have enabled us to meet the increased demand for our services.



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