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How States Can Benefit from Switchboard’s New Data Toolkit: A Perspective from a State Refugee Coordinator

This blog post accompanies a new toolkit developed by the Urban Institute as part of the Switchboard program: Data-Driven State Refugee Programs: Lessons from the field on managing, analyzing, and using data to improve refugee programs.

What challenges do states face in tracking Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) program outcomes?

States face a number of challenges in measuring how state-administered ORR-funded programs are supporting successful resettlement, as well as navigating these programs’ intersections with other services. When states look at refugee families, there are many elements of programs and services that exist outside of the State Refugee Coordinator (SRC)’s purview, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), other federally funded programs, and community supports. SRCs may find it difficult to identify the types of data needed to understand program outcomes, as well as determine how to collect, monitor, and interpret this data.

Our learning experience in Arizona

In Arizona, prior to the creation of a Salesforce-based data system, we focused our data management efforts on Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) reporting requirements in the Annual Outcome Goal Plan and other ORR reporting requirements, including the ORR-6 Trimester Reports. Beyond those measures, we mainly used data from on-site monitoring visits and monthly Excel-based status reports to understand programming realities. However, the data from these reports often did not align. It also did not include family members’ varied income sources, participation in ORR-funded programs outside of Refugee Support Services, or the overarching goals identified by each family.

Over time, the complexity of household circumstances and intersections with other programs, both ORR-funded and mainstream, made clear the need for a more complex system for capturing outcome information. Through trial and error over the past four years, our state has continuously worked to improve our ability to capture meaningful data. This has assisted us in understanding the nuances of program design, outputs, and outcomes, and in identifying root causes of problems and service bottlenecks.

Switchboard’s toolkit can help SRCs improve reporting and use of data

Switchboard’s toolkit offers a step towards addressing these data-related challenges. States that do not yet have data systems that track more extensive outcomes can use it to learn promising practices for gathering needed data—information that would have been extremely valuable for Arizona when building out our data system, training contracted providers, and fully utilizing the data collected.

The toolkit reflects consultations with states and includes promising practices from real programs. It contains recommendations for building out client-centered data systems; necessary considerations for selecting software; best practices for training a data team; and how to approach training system users, among other topics such as innovative ways states can use the required data from ORR-5 and ORR-6 reports.

SRCs face a range of difficulties related to data collection, analysis, and use. While they are responsible for complying with federal reporting requirements, and strive to effectively use data for program improvement, issues such as limited staff capacity, changes to reporting requirements, and fragmented data systems can make these tasks challenging. The lessons, guidelines, and opportunities for collaboration between SRCs offered by Switchboard’s toolkit aim to help states begin to overcome these challenges.

To learn more, download the toolkit Data-Driven State Refugee Programs: Lessons from the field on managing, analyzing, and using data to improve refugee programs.

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