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Turning the Principle of Participation into Practice: Empowering Parents to Engage on Data and Tech

Posted on 23rd of February 2022 by

Turning the Principle of Participation into Practice: Empowering Parents to Engage on Data and Tech
Turning the Principle of Participation into Practice: Empowering Parents to Engage on Data and Tech

This piece was written by Elizabeth Laird, Director, Equity in Civic Technology
for the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). Her work engages civic institutions to promote the responsible, equitable use of data and technology to improve outcomes for individuals and the public good, while ensuring it does not come at the expense of privacy and civil rights. Learn more here.

Two years into the pandemic, questions about parental rights in school have taken center stage in public debates, particularly in school board meetings and state houses across the United States. Not surprisingly, this extends to the use of data and technology in schools.

CDT recently released research that found that parental concerns around student privacy and security protection have risen since the spring, growing from 60% in February 2021 to 69% in July 2021. Far from being ambivalent, we also found that parents and students expressed eagerness to play a role in decisions about technology and data but indicate these desires are going unmet. Most parents and students want to be consulted but few have been asked for input: 93% of surveyed parents feel that schools should engage them regarding how student data is collected and used, but only 44% say their school has asked for their input on these issues.

While much of this debate has focused on the United States and similar countries, these issues have global resonance as all families have a stake in how their children are educated. Engaging students and families has always been an important component of primary and secondary education, from involving parents in their children’s individual experiences to systemic decision-making; however, there is significant room for improvement, especially as it relates to the use of education data and technology. Done well, community engagement (aligned with the Participatory principle in the Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) initiative) is a two-way, mutually beneficial partnership between public agencies and community members in which questions and concerns are identified, discussed, and decided jointly. It benefits public agencies by building trust, helping them achieve their mission, and minimizing risks, including community pushback. It helps communities by assisting agencies to better meet community needs and increasing transparency and accountability.

To assist education practitioners in improving their community engagement efforts, CDT recently released guidance that focuses on four important steps:

1. Plan: Establish Goals, Processes, and Roles

To implement community engagement strategies that are intentional, inclusive, and transparent, agencies should collaborate directly with communities at the outset to establish goals, processes, and roles. This planning should include establishing measures of success, clarifying how decisions will be made, ensuring diverse representation, and being clear about any public agency limitations.


2. Enable: Build Collective Capacity

Successfully and robustly engaging communities requires building capacity — both within communities and within the public agencies that seek to engage them. Building collective capacity entails assessing what community members and public agencies need to engage, providing support to enable engagement (e.g. child care, transportation, food), and ensuring multiple modes of engagement to accommodate different needs. This work means assessing the specific context in a child’s community to understand which stakeholders are most relevant in a specific country, region, and locality.


3. Resource: Dedicate Appropriate People, Time, and Money

Effective community engagement requires substantial resources, including people, time, and money. Without these appropriately in place, community engagement initiatives will not be as successful, which can undermine trust and community relationships rather than strengthen them. To allocate sufficient resources, public agencies should address internal buy-in and staff time, provide financial resources including compensating community members for their time, and build in enough time in the decision-making process to allow for community input.


4. Implement: Carry Out Vision Effectively and Monitor Implementation

After planning, enabling, and resourcing community engagement efforts, public agencies should move forward with implementing the vision for community engagement that they have mapped out with their communities. The execution of data sharing-related community engagement will vary based on a number of factors, but there are common emerging practices that will benefit all such engagement efforts: providing training to agency staff and community members; making resources available before, during, and after engagement events; collaborating with trusted community partners; and being flexible in the engagement process to make adjustments as needed (and requested by community members). These best practices can be realized in any setting for the betterment of children around the world.


As parents continue to demand a more active decision-making role in their child’s education, education practitioners would benefit from proactively engaging community members around how data and technology are used to deliver educational services. The actions outlined here are intended to help administrators most effectively engage the community while balancing their other responsibilities. Even if a situation does not allow for implementing all the suggested practices, community engagement is a critical component of the data sharing that should not be skipped.


This image by Zach Vessels/Unsplash is licensed under CC0.

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