D-A-T-A: Don’t fear this 4-letter word!

When was the last time you looked at your watch and sped up what you were doing to hurry to another activity? Wouldn’t it be great if you soon realized you have a few extra minutes before a meeting and can run to get coffee! Do you check your bank statements to know how much money you have (or, more likely, how much you can squeeze out for that frivolous purchase!)? Have you been successful losing weight by counting calories and minutes of exercise? We all have experiences like this each day, but we don’t realize we are using data to drive our decision-making. In fact, any time we use information to guide our next steps, we are using data. If we have accurate data and use it proactively, we can make better decisions and have more positive outcomes. We all want to be as successful in our efforts as possible. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

The notion of using “data”to improve our decision making is becoming commonplace in our society. For example, if you use social media or do online searches, you are aware of the controversies around privacy protection and the collection of personal information for marketing and other purposes. Those websites want to collect data on us to drive the advertisements, services, and promotions they provide. They are using “our data” to drive their practices to make their services more attractive or relevant to consumers, ultimately improving their sales and other outcomes.

As a behavioral health provider, we have the ethical, professional, and financial responsibility to deliver high quality services to our clients. We work with individuals with complex intellectual, developmental, psychiatric, and behavioral needs that have challenged their ability to function optimally. We must make the strongest effort possible to provide our clients with new skills, increased opportunities, support and guidance, and unconditional positive regard to optimize their functional autonomy and quality of life. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard to ensure we are providing this level of service. We have to be accountable for our work and to our commitment to progress. Jim Gaynor, Grafton’s CEO, once said “Trying is lying.” When I think of this statement, I like to add a bit of Yoda, and think “Do or do not. There is no try.” In both cases, these statements tell us to make a commitment to something and then do what it takes to achieve it.

At Grafton, we have been using a structured, data-driven process in many of our programs for years. We started this process back in 2004 with a simple question of “What is our goal mastery rate?” That is, how often do we demonstrate a level of mastery around one of our care or administrative goals. At the time, we did not have an easy answer to this question because we did not have a systematic method of collecting, analyzing, and reporting on data. With some effort, we determined we were mastering about 35% of our goals. This low number came as a shock to us. Our anecdotal assessments and stakeholder feedback suggested we were making much better progress with clients, and we wanted to better understand why our goal mastery rates did not indicate similar results. We thus began on a mission to better understand our “goal mastery” process. We identified several areas needing improvement and developed intensive training for our staff. These areas included assessment, goal-writing, data collection, graphing and data analysis, and data-based decision-making. Through the implementation of this training and ongoing intensive monitoring and support in those programs, we increased our goal mastery rates from 35% to at or above 80% for the past four consecutive years. We are expanding this process into other programs and expect to see similar results over time.

While we are proud of our improved goal mastery rates, we have to remember that at any given time, we are measuring only specific aspects of an individual’s functioning, and we have to constantly assess whether our efforts are truly leading to their more autonomous, functional, integrated, and satisfying lives. As behavioral health providers, we must check ourselves, regroup, and change course if needed so we may better serve as a trusted guide in the lives of our clients, their families, and our communities. We must not only try. We must do, and toward our ultimate goals, data can help us stay true.