Looking Ahead: MtS Research in Progress Data-Informed Solutions to Support Communities Across Canada

In the youth homelessness sector, data collection and data use is an emerging area of focus. When different sectors and systems better coordinate and integrate their data, there can be a greater opportunity to create maximum desired impact

One of the Making the Shift (MtS) Leveraging Data & Technology themed research projects is contributing to knowledge in this space. We sat down with Robyn Blackadar, the President  & CEO of PolicyWise for Children and Families and Dr. Yale Belanger, a Professor of Political Science at Lethbridge University, about their three year project “Co-creating a data and knowledge roadmap to support youth homelessness research, operations, and policy in Canada.”

Dr. Belanger describes the goals of this research project as,

“To try and make sense of a wealth of data that we can ultimately help to translate for folks in service agencies. We also want to act as an intermediary that can enter into this world of data, and help map it out and provide people with pathways to understanding. We want to help people with their prevention strategies. We’re focusing on youth which again, whittles it down to a very specific group.” 

Dr. Belanger and Blackadar explained that a data roadmap will be created at the end of the project, which aims to provide users with a strategic pathway on how data-driven insights can help them to make evidence-informed actions, while maintaining a relevant view of the larger landscape of information. The project also aims to centralise data from multiple sources to save stakeholders time to address important questions within their research and programming. 

Helping move stakeholders from data to wisdom to prevent youth homelessness

Blackadar elaborates that looking at youth homelessness from a prevention angle is uniquely complex,

“There’s a lot of data collected in service agencies after individuals have become without a home. We want to explore the challenges, the barriers and the enablers that would allow us to have a broader view of youth homelessness in through a prevention lens, so agencies can use the data to help prevent situations facing young people who are without shelter and without home.” 

Blakadar further explains, “what we’ve learned at PolicyWise is how do you put data together from multiple data sources in order to understand the situation we’re trying to go beyond, and try to create a map that would allow you to be more proactive – whether you are a researcher, or whether you’re a service provider, or a government organisation.”

Blackadar referred the Data Information Knowledge Wisdom Pyramid (DIWK Pyramid) to illustrate how individual data sources can build towards a larger understanding of the big picture: 

  • Data: raw facts or singular points of measurement, which without context can often be hard to understand its value.  
  • Information: summary of data that has been organised for easier use and understanding.
  • Knowledge: connected pieces of information that can further help with obtaining a goal and depicting value.
  • Wisdom: knowledge applied in action, and providing an explanation of best practices.

Pictured here is the DIWK Pyramid.

The data roadmap being produced by Dr. Belanger and Blackadar’s team will address all levels of the pyramid. 

Collaboration is Key 

Dr. Belanger and Blackadar spoke to the importance of developing a common language for developing the data roadmap. They are facilitating conversations with their advisory team made up of a range of community stakeholders so there is a collective understanding of the terms, uses, concerns and benefits of a data roadmap and data infrastructure. 

Dr. Belanger advocates that “we are of the community and nicely placed to aid with community engagement. We’re also hopefully able to assist folks with data access and to offer insights through relationship building and collaboration.”

The research team is emphasizing a co-development process with stakeholders that creates buy-in as they go. The team is cognizant of the necessity of this approach for two key reasons, the first being that the project builds on existing data infrastructure in other sectors (e.g. education, health, justice), and a deep understanding of how it operates will be pertinent. The data roadmap must also integrate diverse stakeholder needs and be able to be put to use by those same stakeholders. 

Blackadar noted that “we would like to see how our approach and some of our ideas might lead to more collaboration between provinces or even between countries around how they are able to pool their expertise and efforts around a data initiative.”

The project is in its first year, and will conclude at the end of May 2024. The researchers are eager to hear from stakeholders who are interested in this work. The researchers invite you to get in touch with them at info@policywise.com if you would like to contribute.