Bigger data, less wisdom: the need for more inclusive collective intelligence in social service provision

Abstract

Social service organizations have long used data in their efforts to support people in need for the purposes of advocacy, tracking, and intervention. Increasingly, such organizations are joining forces to provide wrap-around services to clients in order to “move the needle” on intractable social problems. Groups using these strategies, called Collective Impact, develop shared metrics to guide their work, sharing data, finances, infrastructure, and services. A major emphasis of these efforts is on tracking clients and measuring impacts. This study explores a particular type of Collective Impact strategy called Promise Neighborhoods. Based on a federal grant program, these initiatives attempt to close the achievement gap in particular geographic communities. Through an analysis of publicly available documents and information, the study analyzes the ways these strategies enact (and fail to enact) a collective intelligence for the common good. The analysis focuses specifically on issues surrounding data collection and use, youth agency, leadership and governance, and funding streams. Together, these foci develop a story of an increasingly used “intelligence” with a limited sense of “collective” and a narrow vision of a “common good.” Using this as a platform, the paper explores alternatives that might develop more robust practices around these concepts.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    For examples, see textbooks like Siegler, Robert S, and Martha Wagner Alibali. Children’s Thinking, 4th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. These lean heavily on epistemological-developmental theories like those of Piaget.

  2. 2.

    G. Stanley Hall’s two volume text Adolescence effectively defined the field.

References

  1. Abramovitz M (1988) Regulating the lives of women: social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. South End Press, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  2. Addams J (1893) The objective value of a social settlement. Philanthropy and social progress. Ayer, North Stratford, pp 27–56

    Google Scholar 

  3. Arefi M (2004) An asset-based approach to policymaking: revisiting the history of urban planning and neighborhood change in cincinnati’s west end. Cities 21(6):491–500

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Finn JL, Checkoway B (1998) Young people as competent community builders: a challenge to social work. Soc Work 43(4):335–345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Hansan JE (2013) Charity organization societies (1877–1893). http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/?p=8401. Accessed 11 Aug 2015

  6. Healy K (2001) Participatory action research and social work: a critical appraisal. Int Soc Work 44(1):93–105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Henrich J, Heine SJ, Norenzyan A (2010) Most people are not WEIRD. Nature 466:29

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Horton M (1997) The long haul. Teachers College Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  9. Kania J, Kramer M (2011) Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, pp 36–41

  10. Lee JH, Nam SK, Kim A-R, Kim B, Lee MY, Lee SM (2013) Resilience: A meta-analytic approach. J Couns Dev 91(3):269–279. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00095

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Lennie J, Tacchi J, Koirala B, Wilmore M, Skuse A (2011) Equal access participatory monitoring and evaluation toolkit. Better evaluation. http://betterevaluation.org/toolkits/equal_access_participatory_monitoring. Accessed 1 Nov 2016

  12. Lesko N (2012) Act your age: the cultural construction of adolescence. Routledge, New York

    Google Scholar 

  13. Mathie A, Cunningham G (2003) From clients to citizens: asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development. Dev Pract 13(5):474–486

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Mintz S (2004) Huck’s raft: a history of American childhood. Belknap Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  15. Preskill H, Parkhurst M, Juster JS (2014) Learning and evaluation in the collective impact context guide to evaluating collective impact. Collective Impact Forum, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  16. Promise Neighborhoods Institute (2014) Collective impact in action: improving results for children from cradle to career. PolicyLink. https://issuu.com/891011/docs/promising_neighborhoods_institute/0. Accessed 1 Nov 2016

  17. Sabo-Flores K (2008) Youth participatory evaluation: Strategies for engaging young people. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco

    Google Scholar 

  18. Schneider EC (1992) In the web of class: delinquents and reformers in Boston, 1810s–1930s. New York University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  19. Schuler D (2008) Liberating voices: a pattern language for communication revolution. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  20. Smith RS (2010) A universal child?. Basingstoke, New York

    Google Scholar 

  21. Star SL, Ruhleder K (1996) Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: design and access for large information spaces. Inf Syst Res 7(1):111–134

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Torre ME, Fine M (2011) A wrinkle in time: tracing a legacy of public science through community self-surveys and participatory action research. J Soc Issues 67(1):106–121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Tough P (2009) Whatever it takes: Geoffrey Canada’s quest to change Harlem and America. Houghton Mifflin, New York

    Google Scholar 

  24. Trattner WI (1999) From poor law to welfare state: a history of social welfare in America, 6th edn. The Free Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  25. Tuck E (2009) Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harv Educ Rev 79(3):409–427

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Torre ME, Fine M, Stoudt BG, Fox M (2012) Critical participatory action research as public science. In: The handbook of qualitative research in psychology. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC

  27. US Department of Education (2016) Promise neighborhoods. http://www2.ed.gov/programs/promiseneighborhoods/index.html. Accessed 1 Nov 2016

  28. Wyn J, White RD (1997) Rethinking youth. Allen & Unwin, St Leonards

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Critical Data Studies Fellowship of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota for its support to develop the research used in this project. I would also like to thank Douglas Schuler for his attentive, patient, and thorough encouragement and editing.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Fink.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fink, A. Bigger data, less wisdom: the need for more inclusive collective intelligence in social service provision. AI & Soc 33, 61–70 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-017-0719-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Collective impact
  • Promise neighborhood
  • Measurement
  • Data
  • Social change
  • Community development
  • Social justice
  • Education