Why Basics aren't so Basic

Why Basics aren’t so Basic

EDDR Volume II was under construction with a planned release timeline of late 2020 when the Pandemic hit. Needless to say, our schedule took a pretty serious detour as each of us editors and all the contributors suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the emergency. Many of our contributing authors had to raincheck on their chapters because they were called to serve in ways only they could for their organizations, their students, and their stakeholders. We salute them. They and their work were and are critical.

To say that we all have had to dig deep would be a serious understatement. Whether in our personal or professional lives, we all have been tested in ways I’m sure we’ll only start to understand in the years ahead. Over the last two, though, I’m fairly confident that we all can say we’ve had to “just make it work” more than once when the stakes were higher than your average work day.

It’s situations like these where we have to rely on the “muscle memory” of our grounding in the fundamentals to see us through. When we’re tired and stressed, and the folks that we’re working with and for are tired and stressed, that’s when our discipline and commitments to “the basics” or “the fundamentals” of our work have often saved the day.

These basics are the knowledge, training, skills, and expertise that not everyone has and that provide a very special, scientific edge to how we do the work that supports education systems as applied data scientists. They are our strong documentation practices, they’re our clear comments in our code, they’re our maintenance of metadata, our inclusion of caveats in analyses, our use of statistical process controls and descriptive statistics before jumping into a new dataset and running with it. They are our practice of documenting and clarifying with a requestor, just what it is that they mean by words and phrases like “impact” or “effect” or even “how many”.

Think about it. Over the last 24 months, how many of us have heard from a colleague, “we’re up against it, we need this information now or xyz isn’t going to happen tomorrow”? How many of us have been told, “if this platform/product/collection mechanism doesn’t go live in the next week, we can’t get abc critical supplies to students/teachers/families/communities”? How many of us have been told “I know you have a process for this kind of thing, but this is an emergency and we just need you to be flexible just this once”?

But, the thing is, when we don’t stay true to our fundamentals, by trusting in our processes, or doing that documentation, or writing down and clarifying those requests, how many of us have found that the work we’re asked to do in a pinch, “just this once” becomes work we and others have to do over (and over) again? Or work that mushrooms because we’re asked to replicate it when that was never part of the original request?

I’m willing to bet a whole lot of us. It’s certainly happened to me more than I’d like to admit.

So, as we’re all flagging, as we’re all craving some certainty and security, I’m there with you. But, I’m going to invite you to join me in taking a breath, refocusing, and trusting in commitment to the fundamentals. Everything continues to be hard right now, but that’s reaffirming for me that it’s quiet discipline and doing the small things well in the everyday that will help me support the big things today, and tomorrow, and all the days after that.