Democratizing Data


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After 20 years of employment at Lone Star College, Marian Chaney, associate vice chancellor, Analytics and Institutional Reporting, Lone Star College System, knows a bit about the inner workings of the college. “I know our people and I know our culture,” she says. “And I know we have changes we need to make that will require strategic change management.”

Chaney plays a key role in leading that strategic change, with significant progress already under way.

“Historically, our college is like most, we’ve focused on descriptive data – reporting on what has happened – so the move to predictive data was a huge game-changer,” she said.

Moving from Reporting to Analytics

She was part of the early team deploying Illume at Lone Star College. Partners like Lone Star College use Illume® as the command center of their student success initiatives. Underlying Illume is the Student Insights Engine, which uses institutional data to develop student-level, institution-specific predictions that are timely, accurate, and actionable. Illume allows the institution to pinpoint at-risk students hiding in plain sight, develop coordinated student success initiatives, and deploy targeted interventions, all from one place.

“As we went through the data transfer process and stood up Illume® with Civitas Learning, it became evident we were going to need a multi-pronged approach to encourage adoption of the app and the use of analytics,” Chaney said. “In these kinds of initiatives it’s crucial to have the support of the Chancellor and the Chancellor’s cabinet, but adoption can’t be pushed from the top down. It has to grow from within, organically.”

“I’ve always been interested in change management,” Chaney adds. “One of the reasons most change management efforts fail at colleges is because they don’t work within existing systems.”

As she gained support for the move to predictive analytics from Lone Star’s senior leadership, she began to also see interest in using Illume bubble up from faculty and staff. When she was ready to pilot and grow Illume usage, she spoke with teams who had already been working with data from the AIR office – those who had expressed interest in data and were actually using the findings.

These conversations triggered the formation of collaborative working Data Teams.

“We didn’t create a new initiative but instead recruited from existing teams in enrollment management and student success, and integrated the framework into existing working groups,” said Chaney. “My advice is don’t create new committees – we all have initiative fatigue. Bring the new data source to your existing teams and let them power it up.”

Strategic Change Management Plans

“When I attended the Civitas Learning’s Summit last spring, Dr. Linda Baer gave a workshop on change management and it really hit me how important it is to document your strategic change management plan,” said Chaney.

She is using a framework based on her previous IT work and Gartner research. “It’s foundational and serves as an overarching framework that doesn’t change as we progress with new projects,” Chaney said. “It explains how we make decisions at LSC – governance, project tracking and more. This keeps us from creating additional teams or councils for every new initiative.”

Once she has the framework in place, she can scaffold programs or projects as an overlay on the strategic plan – without having to create new committees and workgroups, and start from zero with each new project, app or deployment.

“It lets us maximize existing work groups, knowledge and expertise” she said. “Then when, for example, a new VP comes in, I can take this document to him or her and say, ‘Here – this is how decisions are made at LSC and here is how we are approaching change management in implementing predictive analytics.’ It makes what we have to do to move the organization forward so much clearer, strategically.”

Democratizing Data

One critical move forward is in democratizing data. “Our previous BI tools were brittle and left all of the data in the hands of only the IR team,” said Chaney. “The previous approach of on-demand .pdf reports actually shackled my team and kept them from really doing the research that they are qualified to do. New BI tools we are bringing in, along with our work with Civitas, will allow us to truly democratize the data.”

She is doing so by populating templates with data and training faculty and staff with interest in learning more. “We are opening up the data so a trained user can go in and learn about their research question rather than us just pushing back a formatted .pdf,” said Chaney. “We are populating interactive templates with our data from across various systems.”

Research Methodology for Explorers

Part of the training includes teaching everyone about good research methodology. “Our training will help them formulate a good research question – not ‘how many of this kind of student’ type questions, but ‘why…’ questions,” she said.

Her team will hand off templates and dashboards to employees so they can become what Chaney calls Explorers. Her vision is to build the Explorer base across the System, putting data in the hands of team members on the front lines and bring their expertise to bear to make new discoveries.

“If they find something interesting, my team can vet their process, and when it’s validated and actionable, share it across the system so we can all learn faster.”

This also opens her IR team to do deeper research dives that Chaney says is their passion as well as their unique expertise. She intends to publish and share findings across the system as LSC’s Explorers progress in their research, creating a culture that is invigorated and charged with gaining insights and taking action upon them.

From Static Reports to Live Dashboards

“At first when I talked about opening this up and democratizing the data some of my staff were reluctant,” Chaney said. “What they can see now is this actually means we will need more not fewer of their positions, and the work they get to do will be richer and deeper, in keeping with their passion for this research. This is the future of institutional research — moving into business intelligence and data analytics. My team is excited they’ll get to do more analysis and move away from generating one after another descriptive report in static .pdfs.”

“We want to take a multi-pronged approach to transform LSC from an IR or accountability organization to a data analytics institution through individual and organizational change management.” “Most colleges spend a majority of their time on compliance reporting,” said Chaney. “At LSC we are going to embark on research studies with a strategic, methodical approach that really moves us forward, integrating Illume Student Lists, Illume Impact, Power BI and more. Strategic change requires good communication. Getting the road map in writing is an important first step.”


Learn how the Lone Star College System integrated a scalable infrastructure and built cross-functional teams to be able to act on data-informed insights, scale innovations and assess impact from their initiatives to improve student outcomes.


Dr. Marian Chaney

Marian Chaney currently serves as the Associate Vice Chancellor, Analytics & Institutional Reporting at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. Prior to this she served as Executive Director, Strategy & Governance for the Office of Technology Services. She has over 19 years of higher education IT experience and has held diverse leadership roles including Director of Instructional Technology, Director of Business Intelligence, Executive Director of IT Operations and Executive Director of Client Relations. Chaney holds a B.S.B.A. in Finance/Economics from Rockhurst University and a J.D. from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Prior to joining Lone Star, Chaney was a criminal defense attorney in the Kansas City area. Chaney speaks nationally on a diversity of topics including change management, project management, business intelligence, customer relations management, strategic planning and governance.

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