Surfacing Human Service Organizations’ Data Use Practices: Toward a Critical Performance Measurement Framework

From the 2021 Community Informatics Research Network (CIRN) Conference


  • Alexander Fink University of Minnesota, School of Social Work
  • Ross VeLure Roholt University of Minnesota, School of Social Work



Evaluation, Program Measurement, Data Use, Data Work, Outcome Measurement, Database, Metrics, Critical Data Studies, Performance Measurement, Youth Work Relationship, Surveillance, Sousveillance, Datafication, QuantCrit


Community-level data systems, often called collective impact, increasingly define the landscape of human service data creation. Collective impact strategies develop shared performance measurement metrics across numerous human service organizations (HSOs) in a geographic region to move the needle on specific social problems. Such systems encourage funders to support the development of client tracking and data sharing infrastructure, meaning more HSOs have more information about any given client. However, while many HSOs are using more data than ever, questions remain: how is this data being read, understood, and utilized in HSOs? What differences can we discern in organizational operation and service provision?

This study builds on three years of participant observation as program evaluators in youth-serving organizations (a subtype of HSOs) around the world. It also included a national study of youth-serving organizations with a strong focus on data use. Finally, it includes interviews with program staff in youth-serving organizations and focus group data with young people. Situating this data between the literature on performance measurement in HSOs and critical data studies, we surface emerging tensions in the ways youth-serving organizations are creating and using data, drawing to the fore salient questions for those invested in supporting the just use of data and technology for our communities.






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