Data Linking Toolkit

Part C and Part B 619 program staff use their data to address important questions about program quality and results for children and their families. Yet they sometimes realize they may need additional data from other partners — other agencies or programs — to answer more complex questions of interest. They can then engage with other data linking partners to link data for a variety of benefits. This Data Linking Toolkit comprises multiple sections that include downloadable tools to support Part C and Part B 619 program staff as they consider, prepare, and successfully link their data. DaSy’s Critical Questions include many that require data linking. For example, how do outcomes for children and families differ by characteristics of the workforce (e.g., years of experience, level of education, and participation in professional development)? (1.D.2.d.)

Want to know more about the difference between data sharing, data linking, and data integration? See DaSy’s blog post, What’s the Difference between Data Sharing, Data Linking, and Data Integration, that differentiates between these activities.

The Data Linking Introduction provides an overview of data linking and general information on how to use the toolkit. The Data Linking Partnerships section outlines the benefits and risks of data linking partnerships. The Part C and Part B 619 Data Linking Partners section suggests potential data partners and provides examples of the questions that the data partners might be able to answer together. (In the future, the DaSy Center plans to add more examples of questions related to each of the suggested partnerships.) The Steps to Data Linking section is the largest and details data linking steps and activities. The Resources section provides links to additional information that directly and indirectly supports data linking.

Data Linking Toolkit: Introduction
Data Linking Toolkit: Partnerships
Data Linking Toolkit: Part C and Part B 619 Data Linking Partners
Data Linking Toolkit: Steps to Data Linking
Data Linking Toolkit: Resources

How does this toolkit support Part C and Part B 619 program staff with data linking?

Successful data linking requires advanced understanding of program data as well as technical skills for matching records and merging data sets. A team of program and information technology (IT) staff from each data linking partner can provide the knowledge and skills. The Data Linking Toolkit contains information, guidance, and tools to support Part C and Part B 619 program staff and their partners in successfully linking their data. This toolkit focuses on linking record-level data—either personally identifiable information or de-identified data. Some toolkit resources support the collaborative processes that the partners follow to prepare for data linking. Other resources outline the steps to link data.

Who is this toolkit designed for?

This Data Linking Toolkit is designed for individuals or teams that collectively have an intermediate or better understanding of all program data that might be linked. While the toolkit contains helpful information for any Part C or Part B 619 program staff members who are interested in the topic, the toolkit will most benefit those who:

  • are fluent in data issues and data management issues and are comfortable working with unfamiliar data from another program;
  • understand enough about their internal program, internal agency administration, and politics to ascertain if cross-program data linking would have a reasonable chance of success;
  • know who to ask for assistance (e.g., administrative champion, subject matter experts, technical experts, data governance personnel); and
  • excel at managing details associated with the many data linking steps and activities (as detailed in this toolkit).

What is not included in this toolkit?

This toolkit focuses exclusively on data linking. It does not address:

  • Data sharing. Data sharing is defined as providing partners with access to information that they can’t access in their own data systems—whether the data are record level or aggregate.
  • Data integration. Data integration requires record matching. However, instead of creating a new external data set with linked data, integrating data usually results in merging (integrating) data from the original data sets into a new more comprehensive data set. Both technical and business processes are used to integrate the multiple data sources.
  • Linking data tables within a single data system. For example, if a single data system for Part C or Part B 619 included unlinked tables some with program staff data and others with child-level data, then the steps in this toolkit are not applicable. Instead, those maintaining the single system can complete the linking of tables and technical revisions. However, if the child and program staff data are in separate data systems, then the steps in this toolkit are applicable.

How should this toolkit be used?

DaSy recognizes that data linking can range from the simple to the complex. The time required may be weeks, months, or even years to complete the required steps. DaSy designed this toolkit so that Part C and Part B 619 staff and their data linking partners can use it independently or with assistance from DaSy technical assistance (TA) staff regardless of the amount of time needed for data linking.

  • Part C and Part B 619 staff and their data linking partners should read each section of the toolkit to estimate the scope of work involved, the types and level of staffing needed, the time required, and the activities to be conducted.
  • Staff should access the links to tools and products provided in this toolkit. However, depending on the data to be linked and the resources available within the state, not all tools will be applicable.

DaSy TA staff are available to support Part C and Part B 619 data linking activities. When first considering data linking, program staff are encouraged to contact DaSy to help plan an approach to data linking. Although it is ideal to be involved as early as possible, DaSy can facilitate Part C or Part B 619 data linking at any point in the process.

Published July 2022.