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Efficiently Gather the Information You Need

Sometimes the hardest part of the research phase is knowing where to start. This brief overview provides a framework for research by breaking it into three basic steps:

  1. What do you already know?
  2. What additional information is readily available?
  3. What else do you need to find out?

What do you already know?

Begin by gathering and analyzing the information specific to the school system. This could include enrollment, student poverty, tax base growth/decline, school climate survey results, analytics for current communication tools, state school report cards, school ratings by local news media and specialized websites, etc.

As appropriate to your purpose for doing research, determine all communication, public relations, marketing, and engagement activities currently happening in your district. Include ongoing communication activities and tactics, such as how you manage website content, newsletters, social media, parent and staff emergency notifications, news releases, crisis communication, etc.

Include the efforts of staff members to build relationships with internal and external stakeholders: parent conferences, open house programs, advisory groups, business partnerships, news media relations, and participation in community organizations.

This compilation will provide an accurate picture of how communication is currently integrated into your district and school operations. What additional information is readily available? Following are free sources of information to round out your internal data.

What additional information is readily available?

Following are free sources of information to round out your internal data.

What else do you need to find out?

What you need to know will guide the tools you will use to gather the data. Today there are so many options for gathering information on an ongoing basis, as well as in preparation for a specific initiative. Following are just a few strategies to consider.

  • Surveys. For specific topics, or to get a read on broader issues, such as employee and parent satisfaction, surveys provide a method for quickly gathering information and then gauging improvement and/or changes in behavior by surveying the same questions at regular intervals.
  • Focus Groups. When a deeper dive into the “why” is important, focus groups can be invaluable. Gathering stakeholders together for a conversation allows you to probe the reasons that your stakeholders feel the way they do on specific and broad topics.
  • Key Communicators. By identifying those in your community who are involved in your schools, knowledgeable about your system and viewed as leaders and/or credible resources of information, you can keep a pulse on your community and build a pathway for disseminating the facts and stories you want to share.
  • Online Two-Way Engagement. It can be difficult to know what your community really thinks when you only hear from those who are highly involved and/or inclined to consistently share their views. Online platforms are now available that allow participants to share perspectives and respond to and/or rate those of others so you learn what ideas or concerns rise to the top for a broader base of your stakeholders.
  • Ongoing Input. Make sure your stakeholders have ways to ask questions, provide comments and get a response from a real person. This not only shows you’re listening, but it lets you know what is on people’s minds so you can more proactively address those issues.

These are just a few ways to gather additional data and there are many ways to go about each one as well as a wealth of partners available to assist you.

Research Leads to Accurate Evaluation

The information you gather as you approach any plan or initiative will also serve as your benchmark for determining whether you were able to change behavior or improve the way stakeholders feel about various aspects of your district. That information, in turn, will become a valuable basis for research going forward.