Embedding data-led decisions in the strategic planning cycle: COBIS21 link article
While schools understand that data should inform strategic planning, they often get their timing wrong or rely on unreliable anecdotal evidence. Ashley Kirk and Doris Suchet of ISC Research have advice.
Why ISC Research is asked for data
Many school leaders come to ISC Research asking about how and when to use data to inform business decisions. As a central data point for the global international schools market, we gather and analyse data, intelligence and trends about international schools and the education they provide, to show how the sector is developing. With that information, we know we can help schools and partners make rigorous, cost-effective business decisions.
Getting the timing right
However, we also know that data can be used even more effectively if schools are able to use them to throw new light on their business environment as a regular part of their strategic planning, rather than to confirm trends of which they had already become aware.
School leaders tend to come to us when they have an urgent need to validate market impact, often to substantiate to their Board why admissions may not be following a normal growth pattern, or when a new heavy-hitting competitor starts poaching good staff. The data is necessary to justify the challenges but, as a result, is reactive and may do nothing more than validate reality.
What about using data proactively? Too many schools seem to rely on anecdotal knowledge to inform a school improvement plan or implement a new strategy. That’s not to say they need ISC Research data, but it is important to dedicate time or cost to being informed in a data-led way. However, many school leaders trust word of mouth, a few websites, or their gut instead. Imagine if we did that now when seeking to guide a student’s learning journey.
Investment to inform pre-emptive decisions
Independent data and comparative studies are a strategic investment and help school business decision-makers to become, what BBC broadcaster and Financial Times columnist, Tim Harford calls Data Detectives. They help you to set a professional distance between your school and the facts so that hearsay, opinions and the marketing messages of competitors, do not colour important decisions. Data can inform a school in multiple ways, helping your SLT or Board to look at your school through a new lens; one that is impersonal, unbiased and, all of a sudden, pre-emptive.
Identifying the unknown unknowns
Once senior leaders know the data they have is reliable, they tend to become the most avid data geeks, hunting for every bit of insight and nuance that the data provides and helping to make many more decisions than were ever anticipated. At ISC Research we call this identifying the ‘unknown unknowns’; the stories that data can tell when effective analysis, benchmarks and correlations are made.
What will a good data study do?
A good comparative data study should do three things:
- Give you a complete and comprehensive picture that is data driven and factual.
- Be unique to you by allowing your school and the schools that matter to you to be part of the data mining process
- Provide a fresh perspective on your school and its place within its market
Starting with big questions
So, how to identify the unknown unknowns? Our advice is not to start with the data you think you need, but to begin by asking some big questions and answering them candidly and from various perspectives (that of leaders, staff, students, parents, the wider community):
- What has recently changed within the school?
- What has recently changed beyond the school that is directly impacting the school?
The answer to these questions will be the springboard for any good data provider to give you the data you never knew you needed and now can’t live without.
Gaining the initiative in a virtuous planning cycle
Seeking and using objective data then becomes an essential aspect of proactive decision making as part of a virtuous planning cycle. The data inform big decisions in a way that keeps the school ahead of developments, instead of confirming an inevitable decision after the horse has bolted.
In a rapidly changing sector it makes good business sense to embed relevant regular data gathering into the strategic planning cycle rather than seek one-off studies as a result of (often well-founded) concerns. Being on the front foot is a much better place to be.
Both Ashley and Doris assist schools and all types of organisations supporting international schools with the market data and intelligence needed for strategic planning and business development.
Ashley Kirk, Sales Director, ISC Research
Ashley has worked closely with independent and international schools for several years, specialising in education software and data.
Doris Suchet, School Development Manager, ISC Research
Doris has extensive experience in international education and school leadership, specialising in ELT and school business strategy.