Data Design Initiative

The Data Design Initiative improves capacity for using data and evidence to advance the wellbeing of Head Start children and families.

The Data Design Initiative builds off of the 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 Head Start programs generate a significant amount of data, much of it is not used to inform and improve practice. NHSA hopes to make it possible for every staff member and program to 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.

Data Design Highlights

NHSA is working with practitioners, the Office of Head Start, vendors, and experts to make progress on critical data projects. Approximately a dozen projects emerged from the very first huddle in December 2017. As the work has continued, this list has expanded to include nearly 20 projects, including:

  • We are creating an early childhood data lake, a central repository that will collect, store, and analyze data from Head Start programs in ways that help Head Start programs learn from each other. Our data lake will be designed with a primary goal of providing useful information back to programs and partners in order to improve early childhood practice and outcomes.
  • The Head Start Data Analytics Playbook is live, offering practitioners examples of data visualizations used by their colleagues to support and improve their work with children and families.
  • The Academy at NHSA now features three courses—Data Basics, Data Essentials, and the Data Literacy Credential—to meet the field's needs for ongoing data training.
  • 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."
  • NHSA has drafted a one-page overview laying out the desired characteristics for better, simpler assessments in Head Start and is currently developing a rubric for evaluating assessments against these principles.

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

Webinar: Child Assessments: Telling Stories with Data

NHSA partnered the University of Oregon and the Oklahoma University Early Childhood Education Institute to host The What and Why of Child Assessments webinar series.



Child Assessments Worksheet

Data Playbook for States

Data Capacity Toolkit

Better, Simpler Early Childhood Assessments

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Data Talks