We all have partners of various types in our lives. We need people around us to help us achieve our goals and to support us. But what makes a partner great? They listen, are honest, trustworthy, and help us to succeed. And a community of partnerships, an ecosystem if you will, helps you go even further. Further than you could have alone. 

Partners in data interoperability do these same important and critical things. In our growing community, we can create a holistic ecosystem to serve all our needs better. Achieving this requires good partnership, which starts with understanding the who, what, and why of our work.

Our charge at Ed-Fi is to make the work of connected data faster, easier and more flexible. As part of that charge, we’ve asked our community partners to meet specific requirements. In retrospect, maybe in the throes of our excitement, we didn’t explain that the requirements being lobbed at our partners were in service to building lasting partnerships. So, in the spirit of good partnership, let’s look at the vendors that make up our growing ecosystem and what these partnerships mean in practice.  

Managed Service Providers

For decades, educators and administrators have input data into disparate systems, databases, and software. Over time, this has created institutionalized workarounds and a lot of technical debt. But partnerships allow agencies to break through the data infrastructure built on years of manual inputs, allowing your data to deliver on its promise. 

Yes, it is possible to do it yourself, but Managed Service Providers (MSPs) (like the folks listed here) bring a lot to the table. Within the Ed-Fi ecosystem, MSPs provide hosting, support, and other services in the Ed-Fi infrastructure, offloading the burdens of installation, upgrades, and maintenance. 

With a deep bench of technical capabilities, product designers, experience, and skills, MSPs provide support — such as implementation, training, and product improvements — to partnering agencies and vendors. And when deciding between doing it yourself and an MSP partnership, what often tips the scale is expert-level deployment of the service. Often in one semester, MSPs can help you move from prototyping to actually leveraging student data to directly impact students. 

Educational Service Agencies and collaboratives 

Educational Service Agencies (ESA), and what we often refer to as district collaboratives, are cropping up and growing all around the country. They are partnering with agencies in their regions and expanding the technological reach of student data interoperability. 

One way to think about the work of collaboratives is through a hub-and-spoke analogy. At the center of the wheel are these collaboratives (sometimes working with an MSP) who partner with busy Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to develop the most needed, best-fit data tools and solutions for their regional peers. For example, let’s say there are 20 ESAs across a state, and each has between 70 to 80 LEAs. Typically, those LEAs share state reporting requirements, similar vendors, and other regional commonalities. By partnering with collaboratives, those LEAs can turn to them to find out what solutions or products are working and what can be done better together. This approach becomes about building upon regional network effects and centralizing the technical expertise of the collaboratives, who can lighten the load of deployment, get usable data faster, and speed up the return on investment for their partners. It’s an economies of scale effect. 

It also means leveling the playing field. Across our hypothetical state with 20 ESAs, the size and budget of the individual LEAs will vary. Everyone needs student data that delivers on its promises and provides actionable insights. By partnering with ESAs, LEAs of any size can benefit from tools and resources available to larger schools and districts, to serve their students and educators. 

Returning to the spoke-and-wheel analogy, as the relationship between collaboratives, MSPs, and LEAs develops, the more holistic and healthier the entire ecosystem becomes. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. This is the promise of partnership between these groups. They gain the opportunity to work together to shape the solution because each stakeholder has a seat at the table. They get to exercise their voice for their district. By being part of the group, they deliver solutions together at scale — making adopting data infrastructure cost effective, time efficient, and possible. 

In our shared pursuit of creating a holistic ecosystem of student data interoperability nationwide, Ed-Fi has formed strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations. Here is a list of a few of those key relationships transforming the landscape of data usage. 

Product Developer Partners (Vendors) 

LEAs, MSPs, and collaboratives are constantly looking for education technology providers. This is where Ed-Fi practices good partnership.

Over the years, Ed-Fi has gained the trust of education agencies by allowing for uniform data collection, enabled multi-system integration, and promotion of district- and agency-owned interfaces. To ensure quality and adoptability at scale, Ed-Fi requires vendors to showcase their adoption of the Ed-Fi Data Standard through certifications and badges. These exist so that every type of education technology provider can meet state requirements, verify their product’s ability to use the Ed-Fi Technology Suite, and promote their solutions to the rapidly growing Ed-Fi community. 

Ed-Fi works with priority vendors on behalf of our community by codifying emerging best practices from LEAs, MSPs, and collaboratives. Through active and engaged listening, Ed-Fi supports the community and vendors. This allows vendors a chance, through certification and badges, to offer deployable solutions to the Ed-Fi ecosystem. Vendors can reduce the burden of costly, one-off support asks from individual districts and increase overall customer satisfaction. While, also, enabling educators to better serve their students with interoperable technology. At the same time, vendors open their business to new market opportunities. 

A Holistic Ecosystem Starts With the Right Partnership

You might be wondering where to start. Connect with your district partner and your tech instructional leadership team, then take the next step and connect with the Ed-Fi community. Vendors are eager to innovate, and as more of their customers join the Ed-Fi community, more opportunities are available for everyone to take advantage of developing solutions. A holistic ecosystem — where collaboratives, MSPs, and vendors work together to gain a complete data view of every student to solve district, state, and nationwide challenges — is possible. 

Partnerships take many forms, and the Ed-Fi community ranges from those who provide implementation to integration to analytics to wraparound solutions. Use this growing ecosystem to find your best and right fit within the community. Our shared mission is to unlock the value of data to serve and impact learners today and in the future.

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