Improving Data Use in Family Self Sufficiency Efforts

Chapin Hall interviewed program administrators and researchers working on family self-sufficiency about the current capacity, challenges, and opportunities for use of data in that field. This report highlights areas where that use of data may be expanded and improved.

What We Did

The team conducted interviews and focus groups with 96 key stakeholders, including program administrators, researchers, and other interested groups like professional associations and advocacy groups. We asked the stakeholders about three areas: 1) how they define family self-sufficiency; 2) their perceptions of the current use of data and research in family self-sufficiency topics, and; 3) the data and assistance needs of the family self-sufficiency data user community.

What We Found

We found that family self-sufficiency programs include income supplements, work supports, and a variety of areas that contextualize families’ financial stability and general well-being. This includes health services, education, child welfare, criminal justice, and domestic violence.

In relation to data use, we found:

  • Respondents most commonly used data on cash assistance, food stamps, child care subsidies, and child welfare. They were most interested in getting access to data about earnings and employment.
  • Access to data that can be used to track individuals or households over time and data linked across programs were priorities for respondents.
  • Almost all respondents cited concerns about data quality, particularly data entry errors and inconsistencies. Most interviewees wanted to understand in detail how data they use were collected.

On the whole, respondents stressed the importance of increasing the accessibility and usability of data and of improved communication between administrators, researchers, and policy makers.

What It Means

We identified the following key areas for improvement in the use of data in the family self-sufficiency space:

  • Negotiating and establishing data sharing agreements;
  • Helping agencies access datasets from other family self-sufficiency program and topic areas to contextualize their work;
  • Improving data security, storage, and documentation;
  • Assistance with data management, linking, and analysis;
  • Opportunities for staff training and peer engagement.
Recommended Citation
Weigensberg, E., Schlecht, C., Wiegand, E., Farris, S., Hafford, C., Goerge, R. & Allard, S. (2014). Family Self-Sufficiency Data Center: Needs assessment report. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
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