Translating data into real-world solutions is at the heart of Alicia Bunger’s research as assistant professor in Ohio State’s College of Social Work. Bunger was recently named a 2017 Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Fellow—an award given to SSWR members who serve the organization and its mission with distinction. Translating research to social work applications is part of that mission, and right in Bunger’s wheelhouse.
“For social workers, there’s nothing we do that is not or should not be driven by data, at least in part,” says Bunger, who studies collaboration and competition among human service organizations. Data-driven work is, of course, the ideal scenario for organizations that she says often operate on a shoestring budget, with a limited staff that is already stretched thin.
“Many organizations have in their records the statistics they need to make data-driven decisions, but no time, staff or expertise to analyze that information and draw conclusions,” says Bunger.
Another issue for some organizations is data in multiple places, with no obvious way to bring that data together. Public child welfare agencies are one such example of this. They keep copious useful data on the children under their care, from family safety to each step of the legal process, but the information about the services they receive outside of the child welfare system is stored in other data systems. Difficulty linking and sharing data across systems in a way that protects families’ privacy presents a major barrier to developing and evaluating programs that coordinate services across systems.
This is why Bunger is so excited about Translational Data Analytics as part of the university’s Discovery Theme initiative. She sees significant potential for translational data partnerships in the nonprofit and human services sectors. “When we talk about big data, we often talk about businesses or large governmental organizations, and it’s easy to forget about local public agencies and nonprofits.”