Leveraging the IR Office to Improve Campus-wide Decision Making

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. If you are interested in writing an eAIR article, or have an interesting topic, please contact eAIR@airweb.org.

This month’s question is answered by ​Jessica Egbert, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Engagement, Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.

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

JessicaEgbert.jpgDear Jessica: As a newly promoted Director of IR, how can I leverage our office to improve campus-wide decision-making?

Congratulations on your promotion! Institutional research (IR) is in a decision making and support renaissance. While the IR office may have previously been primarily utilized for standardized reporting, it has become a sophisticated, institution-wide contributor. As such, opportunities abound for leveraging your office to improve campus-wide decision making.

In interviews with colleagues at various institutions, three strategies have arisen about enhancing how IR offices influence decision making. Your response to the following question may determine if these strategies are appropriate for you! (If your response is anywhere on the maybe-to-no continuum, these may be particularly

Do decision-makers know your office exists and how it may benefit their own interests?

On occasion, I imagine IR offices in the basement of a cement block building, with flickering fluorescent lights overhead, and drip-drip-dripping in the corner (a la Joe vs. The Volcano). On the walls, I envision a cat poster with the caption, “Hang in There Baby.” Whether this is a literal or metaphorical reflection of your IR office, the first step to increasing your effectiveness is by increasing visibility. 

Strategies for Increasing IR Office Visibility

  1. Encourage and model saying “yes” to opportunities. Give the presentation, write the article, serve on that committee, and lead that task force. By growing your visibility in a way that demonstrates competence (even when you are uncomfortable), you will establish trust and create new networks.

  2. Initiate a strategic public relations campaign. Create visibility by implementing a deliberate campaign that addresses your various audiences and considers a response to their question, “How does this benefit me?” Use informative language that references support services to which the audience may be interested. The campaign may include emails, social media, intranet, signage, word-of-mouth (such as ambassadors or simply speaking up in meetings to reference potential data considerations), or activities (such as monthly recognition of an institutional partner demonstrating effective data use in decision-making).

  3. Become recognized as a neutral influencer. Data is a powerful tool in affecting influence, yet, in IR, we have to be assertive in discussing and providing data while also aware of nuances of that data (and, potentially, political implications). Attempt to communicate in a non-biased way and using data-generated facts to neutralize decision-support. This neutrality may expand your influence across a greater institutional audience.

While increasing visibility may get you a seat at the decision making table, it does not necessarily deal with an erroneous assumption that all individuals are educated consumers of data. As such, taking on a training role empowers IR to increase its own effectiveness.

Strategies for Developing Educated Data Consumers

  1. Develop accessible training. It is surprisingly simple to create and publish on-demand training that may increase efficiencies for you and your colleagues. Consider those topics about which you are continuously educating and develop a series of brief tutorial videos. Publish these (and any related documentation) in a centralized location – and be sure others are aware of that location through your public relations campaign!

  2. Create data awareness. Ensure your office has published dashboards, reports, and other frequently requested data to a centralized location about which your constituents are aware. Another helpful option may be to add a list of variables and filters commonly available for analyses, a schedule of institutional reporting, and suggestions for advanced analysis. Done well, IR is a central source for data.

  3. Simplify your speech. We have a tendency to use overly academic jargon that often results in meeting-time naps and/or meaningfulness buried amongst statistical specificity. While this may be effective in like-minded audiences, much of the context is unnecessary to communicate meaning. Know your audience and report accordingly.

  4. Develop data intelligence. Rather than providing a predictable descriptive report, ensure your data includes analyses that explain the valuable context and meaning behind the numbers so decision-makers understand why that data matters.

So, your colleagues across campus know you exist and they understand the data you provide. Now what? Up-level your contribution.

Strategies for Increasing Contribution

  1. Enhance data and analysis sophistication. Your IPEDS and accreditation-related reporting may be impeccable, but opportunities are missed if variables are not explored beyond means and percentages. By adding a multivariate exploration to your analysis, you paint a richer picture of the data by explaining relationships that inform mature decision-making and contribute to the long-term viability of the institution.

  2. Think long-term. If your office primarily supports short-term needs, such as annual compliance or budgeting, you have an excellent opportunity to increase your contribution towards long-term strategic planning. Again, by providing a more rigorous analysis, we understand how variables help us predict behaviors and performance over time, a value-added analysis.

  3. Connect the dots. Familiarity with your institution’s mission, vision, goals, values, strategic plan, accreditation standards, and departmental outcomes will allow you to tell the story of data across separate groups and which address the whole institution. For example, identifying relationships across academic outcomes, enrollment data, and student demographics may allow decision-makers to identify enrollment strategies and increase completion rates.

Institutional Research offices are a gateway to institutional mission fulfillment. By increasing our visibility, educating our consumers, and increasing our contributions, we position ourselves as decision-making leaders.




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