On NOT reinventing the wheel

Stone wheelA couple of recent projects have reminded me of what a sharing profession Institutional Research is.  We often share the results of our efforts when it will help others avoid needlessly repeating that effort.  I’m not sure if it comes from the empathy that develops from working in small offices where resources are stretched so thin, or just the kind of people attracted to the field, but I have yet to meet a stingy IR person! (Although I have encountered plenty of people outside the field trying to make some money by selling us the stuff we’d otherwise “reinvent” ourselves…)

One of my earlier experiences with this kind of generosity was the data on faculty achievements collected by Carol Berthold, of the University System of Maryland.  Carol would troll press releases and websites to maintain her database by institution of faculty members’ prestigious memberships (e.g. Institute of Medicine, National Academies, etc.) and awards (e.g. NSF New Faculty Awards, Guggenheims, etc.) by institution.  And then she freely opened up her database to share with IR offices!  This was data that we all found useful in touting our faculties’ accomplishments, providing contextual peer data, etc.  Very cool!

Some of my wonderful colleagues distribute their SPSS syntax files for creating routine reports from the surveys in which a number of our institutions participate .  Inspired by this, Alex and I are trying to make an effort to share some of our SAS syntax for these same surveys.  (SPSS, SAS, and R are statistical analysis software.  Probably the majority of IR offices use SPSS, but an increasing number use SAS, with use of R starting to pick up as well.)

Collecting and summarizing publicly available peer data is another area for collaboration and sharing.  The data may be publicly available, but it can take some work to put it into a user-friendly format.  A colleague recently shared a dataset he built of Fulbright Scholars.  This effort was facilitated by staff at HEDS, and made available to HEDS members.

Having overlapping peer groups presents another opportunity to share.  My good colleague at a nearby college has given me data that I needed from a peer summary that included Swarthmore.   Another colleague at a peer institution would routinely share her fascinating anthropological/institutional research work on the CIRP survey using peer data that included Swarthmore.

Like many professional associations, ours offers “Tips and Tricks” from members through its newsletter and website.  One of the things that Alex is doing with his blog is discussing some of the technical work we do, in an effort to encourage learning about tools and shortcuts from each other.

This kind of sharing provides the gifts of convenience, insights, and time.  In the instances where we are doing or would benefit from similar projects, it just makes sense for us to spread the load.

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Robin Huntington Shores

Currently the Director of Institutional Research and Assessment at Swarthmore College, Robin has worked in Institutional Research for over 20 years at a range of institutions.