Quality, real-time data is the cornerstone of the Anchor Community Initiative. Our Data & Evaluation Manager, Vishesh Jain, shares how Walla Walla achieved this milestone.
In February, Walla Walla became the first Anchor Community to complete the Youth and Young Adult By-Name List Scorecard. This meant that Walla Walla could definitively say that their community participation, policies and procedures, and data infrastructure were set up to accurately identify ALL unaccompanied youth and young adults in the community. The team then set their sights on the next key milestone: Achieving quality, real-time data.
To achieve quality, real-time data, a community must complete the Youth and Young Adult By-Name List Scorecard AND record three months in a row of reliable data. This means that actively homeless, inflow, and outflow numbers are balanced. For example:
Data is considered reliable if the actively homeless number is within a 15% margin of the expected number based on the prior month’s actively homeless number and the current month’s net change. When Walla Walla began tracking their data reliability, their numbers were once 1200% greater than expected! The community’s Anchor Community team created a Data Workgroup and embarked on a journey to polish their data practices.
At the beginning of their journey, Walla Walla faced several challenges. Communities access homeless system data through the Homeless System Information System (HMIS), but as a community without their own Continuum of Care, Walla Walla does not have a local HMIS manager. The community worked with the Department of Commerce to receive monthly reports, but the community could not directly access the data to shape the reports.
Initially, Anchor Community Initiative Coordinator Sam Jackle manually calculated inflow, outflow, and actively homeless numbers based on the reports, which opened the possibility for human error in the calculations. Furthermore, the Data Workgroup realized that the definitions the Department of Commerce used in the report did not always match the information the community needed to draw from the report. For example, the Anchor Community Initiative includes young people who are couch surfing/doubled up and in temporary housing as actively homeless, so we had to make sure that these young people were included in the report.
“Working with the data has always been a challenge because we have limited capacity here in Walla Walla,” said Sam. “Shifting the work to a more collaborative mindset with the Data Workgroup and with added Data and Evaluation capacity at A Way Home Washington really helped accelerate our progress.”
The Data Workgroup combed through the report and the numbers on a weekly basis. Through this process, the team was able to define what they needed in reporting, and then work with the Department of Commerce on creating a report that met these requirements. Once this report was created, I developed a Tableau dashboard connected to Department of Commerce data where Sam can access the numbers she needs without any manual calculations.
“I’m so proud of our group for making it to quality data and the spirit of collaboration that led us there,” said Amanda Fowler, Data Workgroup member LOFT Administrator. “It’s been really inspiring to work with the team, and after watching the collaboration unfold in real-time, I have complete faith that we will be able to meet our goals in ending youth homelessness.”
In September, the team’s efforts paid off: Their data was reliable for three months in a row, and the team achieved quality, real-time data! Now, the community can trust that they have an accurate picture of the young people experiencing homelessness each month. As Walla Walla starts testing different reduction improvement projects, quality data will be invaluable in helping the team evaluate the effectiveness of their projects and determine where to allocate their time and resources.