Frequently asked questions: Institute for Social Capital, Inc.

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What is the Institute for Social Capital (ISC)?

ISC, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides oversight for the ISC Community Database, which is the only integrated data system in North Carolina. The ISC’s mission is to advance university research and increase the community’s capacity for data-based planning and evaluation.

What is an integrated data system?

An integrated data system holds administrative data from numerous organizations and can match information across these organizations at the individual level. For example, the information about students in a certain school can be matched to data from the Department of Social Services so that a school can better understand its population. Or, a nonprofit organization can match its program list to both these agencies to learn how to better serve its target population. Therefore, an integrated data system (IDS) is a unique resource and powerful tool for local program evaluation and policy formulation.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is the information that organizations and agencies collect in the process of their daily work. This information includes demographics such as race and age as well as program use and data like student attendance and community arrest records.

What is the purpose of using administrative data in research?

Administrative data is not collected for research purposes. However, it is useful data for researchers because it does not rely on self-report and it tells us who uses what services and how much. If a study wanted to look at the impact of absenteeism on test scores, a researcher could survey individual students for information on their attendance and test scores. This information already exists as administrative data, which means that researchers can study a population instead of a sample. Without using administrative data that has already been collected, this research is very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Using administrative data is not only faster and easier, it can provide more statistically powerful results.

What procedures are in place to protect this data?

The data in the ISC Community Database is individual level, identifiable data so that data can be linked across agencies. Therefore, the ISC has numerous procedures in place to protect the data. Most importantly, each data depositor enters into a rigorous legal data sharing agreement with ISC, Inc. This agreement explicitly states the expectations of confidentiality and security. Researchers who would like to use data from the ISC database must first have IRB approval.

Once IRB approval is obtained, the researcher submits a Data License Request to the ISC Data and Research Oversight Committee (DAROC), which provides oversight of the ISC Community Database and reviews all research requests. DAROC includes University researchers and members of the community, including a representative from each data depositor. The agency that owns the data being requested must approve the use of their data during the approval process.

No researcher will ever see identifiable data. The ISC’s Database Administrator links and matches data on a secure terminal that is not connected to a network, then the data is deidentified and sent to DAROC for review.

What administrative data does the ISC hold?

We are always in the process of negotiating data sharing agreements with local government and non-profit agencies. The ISC currently has data sharing agreements with the following organizations:

  • Charlotte- Mecklenburg Schools (CMS)
  • Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS)
  • Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO)
  • Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)

What kind of projects use the ISC community database?

ISC collaborates with both researchers and community members. Therefore, data from the ISC Community Database is used for research projects such as investigating the educational attainment of Black males who attended Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools then UNC Charlotte.

The ISC Community Database is also being used for numerous program evaluations for community organizations that are being conducted by UNC Charlotte Urban Institute staff. These evaluations are mixed-methods evaluations, so they use data from the ISC Community Database as an important quantitative component, but complement this data with additional quantitative and qualitative data collection.

What does the ISC have to do with the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute?

The ISC integrated with the Urban Institute in 2012. The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute is a nonpartisan, applied research and community outreach center. Founded in 1969, it provides services including technical assistance and training in operations and data management; public opinion surveys; and research and analysis around economic, environmental, and social issues affecting the Charlotte region.

The ISC is now a critical resource used in the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute’s work. All ISC team members are urban institute staff, working on research and community projects that do and do not utilize the ISC Community Database.

How can I use the ISC community database for my research?

Codebook: If you are an academic researcher, we have a codebook for each of our data depositors. To access the codebook, visit http://charlotteresearch.info to request access.

Research requests: If you believe the data outlined in the codebook is a good fit for your research and you would like to use data from the ISC Community Database, contact Ashley William Clark, associate director of the Institute for Social Capital, to set up a meeting.

Program Evaluations: If you are a community organization who is interested in evaluating a program or programs using the ISC Community Database, contact Director of Research Services Diane Gavarkavich to set up a meeting.

For all general questions about ISC, Inc. or becoming a data depositor, contact Institute for Social Capital Director Amy Hawn Nelson.