You know you’re doing a great job. You know that your drowning prevention education program is reaching people or that your swimming or water survival program is teaching solid skills. You know that drowning is a leading cause of death in children so OF COURSE everyone wants to know more, funding pipelines are flowing freely and your efforts to raise awareness are being picked up by the most influential media outlets. Or, maybe not. Welcome to the new reality of Big Data. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, data was declared a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold. We’re not just talking data like Facebook matching ads to your purchasing preferences, we’re talking data being used to make decisions about funding, policy development, child health and safety interventions, and, yes, drowning prevention programs. If we don’t begin to collect, analyze and use data effectively to formulate and defend our programs, we will fall further and further behind in our capabilities to raise awareness and raise funding.
We have started. The gold standard for collecting and effectively using data is the excellent report on Child Drowning published by UNICEF and The Alliance for Safe Children last May. You can download the document here. This is not the only example of how research in drowning prevention is being used to elevate the issue of child drowning to a level that will attract global recognition, it is an excellent example of a program that has rigorously used data to develop and test a program and then taken the next step to leverage the results to attract interest, and funding, at the highest levels. The key is they didn’t just collect the data, they are also translating the action into funding and awareness to support an effective program.
But what do you do if UNICEF isn’t one of your partners? What if you have a small initiative that you are trying to grow and don’t have the resources carry out such an intensive research project? How do you collect and use data effectively to raise awareness about your program and the issue of drowning prevention and to attract funding on a smaller scale? It’s not as hard as you think. Ask yourself a couple of questions about your program and your goals and if you can answer ‘yes’ to all of them, you are well on your way to having enough data to being ‘selling’ your program to potential sources of funding for the next year, and possibly into the future on an expanded basis.
- What do you wish to accomplish? If you can’t summarize it succinctly in one sentence your goals may be too scattered. ‘I want to raise awareness about drowning for children’ is too broad, and impossible to measure. ‘I want every child enrolled in preschool or day care in my town to complete a 3 hour water safety curriculum during the school year.’ is targeted and achievable.
- How are you going to accomplish your goal? Again, be specific, think in terms of action steps. For instance, a) Develop a curriculum and have it reviewed by experts in early childhood education for content and optimal ‘chunks’ of instruction time; b) Make a list of all preschool and day care providers and develop an approach to convince them to incorporate the program into their curriculum. Look at enlisting librarians, religious organizations, firefighters and policemen or doctors and nurses into spreading the information; c) Develop educational materials for parents that children can take home so that the messages are reinforced and parents are also educated; d) work with teachers to make sure the program fits smoothly into their normal curriculum. And so on. When you are developing your list, the more detailed the better. Remember the adage of ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ One bite at a time.
- Can you identify baseline measurements that will tell you if the key messages or behavior is being learned? Is it the number of children who have completed the program? Is there a way to measure the level of water safety knowledge in children at the beginning of the curriculum and again at the end? Be specific. Don’t expect every child to be able to teach the 3-hour course, identify key messages you believe will change behavior. Using an established program as an example, at the beginning of the year a teacher might ask, ‘how many of you know what to do if your clothes catch on fire?’. Track the answers and see how many children answer ‘Stop, drop and roll.’ Test again immediately after the curriculum is completed and again at the end of the school year. Ideally, test again after the summer to see if the information is retained. Think about sending a very brief survey to parents to see if they noticed any change in their child’s behavior after the course, including whether the child is now exhibiting proper behavior around water and reminding parents and peers. Based on the measurements during the year, adjust the program as necessary and re-test.
Congratulations, you now have data!
What do you do with your data? Market it. Approach local media with the success of your program in keeping young children safe (because who doesn’t like a feel-good story about safer children?) Engage the teachers, librarians, religious organizations and other partners and celebrate your success, make them excited about continuing to reinforce the key messages. And sell it! Identify possible sources of funding. Community volunteer organizations, government grants, private foundations. Do some basic research on what information those organizations need to make funding decisions and make your proposal stand out by stressing the methodical, results-based approach you have used. Let them know that there is already one success story and they have the potential to save the lives of many children, to make a measurable difference. Because who doesn’t want to make a difference? Especially if it involves helping children.