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Data Design Initiative


Our goal is to improve capacity for using data and evidence to advance the well-being of Head Start children and families.

Our Work

NHSA is working with practitioners, OHS staff, vendors, and experts to make progress on critical Data Design projects.

Moving Forward

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About the Data Design Initiative

As part of our goal of advancing the well-being of Head Start children and their families, NHSA has undertaken the Data Design Initiative. The Data Design Initiative builds off of the 2016 “Moneyball for Head Start” report, which outlined a vision for continuous improvement using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve outcomes at all levels of Head Start. The revised Head Start Program Performance Standards embrace many of these principles, emphasizing the importance of bringing quality improvement to the field.

Despite the fact that Head Start programs generate a significant amount of data, much of it is not used to inform and improve practice. The Data Design Initiative aims to bring down the barriers that are hindering programs’ abilities to collect, analyze, and share data and other evidence. NHSA hopes to help make it possible for every staff member and program to learn from their own and others’ experience and collaborate to discover increasingly effective and cost-effective practices. This requires readily accessible, understandable, and easy-to-use data systems that, at the same time, protect individual privacy.



NHSA’s first event as part of this initiative, the Data Design Huddle, took place in Austin, TX, in December 2017. From this event, approximately a dozen project emerged. The list of projects is expected to evolve as the initiative and advances and additional insights are gained, but the projects are (flexibly) assigned to five categories:

1. People ProjectsImproving Staff and Other People's Capacity to Use Data to Improve on Multiple Dimensions within Head Start

2. Data Improvement ProjectsImproving Quality and Type of Information Collected for Analysis

3. Information System Improvement ProjectsImproving Technology and Communications

4. Knowledge and Learning Enhancement ProjectsFinding, sharing, and building knowledge about effective practices and programs

5. Policy Projects: Finding and implementing effective ways to motivate continuous improvement


Current Status

  • The Head Start Data Analytics Playbook is live, offering Head Start practitioners examples of data visualizations used by their colleagues to support and improve their work with children and families. 
  • NHSA has launched the Developing Data Capacity toolkit, a useful resource for those looking to hire or contract someone to do data work, such as questions to ask when interviewing, skills to look for in a candidate for various positions, boilerplate job descriptions, and language for RFPs to retain analytic services.
  • In partnership with BrightHive, NHSA won the Early Childhood Innovation Prize for a multi-site pilot project called, "Helping Children Thrive through Community-led Outcome Metrics." Phase 1 of the project is complete, and fundraising is current underway for phrase 2.
  • NHSA has drafted a one-page overview laying out the desired characteristics for better, simpler assessments in Head Start. NHSA is encouraging current and future researchers, vendors, and others to embrace this vision and take needed actions to bring it to life, and some assessment vendors have already begun to pilot abbreviated assessments that can take less time without losing critical information. NHSA invites comments on the draft, which can be sent to


NHSA Wants to Know!

NHSA hopes to enlist other partners in making the changes needed to transform Head Start data into the insight-generating, performance-improving resource those data have the potential to be. NHSA welcomes suggestions, feedback, and involvement from those who see opportunities for refining this content and bringing this vision to life.

Have questions, comments, or ideas? Email



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A big thank you to our annual sponsors, who make this work possible: