Just Released: State Guide to Building Online School Report Cards

Collaborative Communications Group is honored to partner with the Council of Chief State School Officers, Data Quality Campaign, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Learning Heroes, and the National PTA to develop a State Guide to Building Online School Report Cards. Collaborative believes that education data is a transformative, powerful lever for initiating policy and fostering engagement, and we are thrilled to share this resource with the field.

Dear Friend,

We are proud to announce the release of a State Guide to Building Online School Report Cards – a 12-month, step-by-step timeline and guide outlining the process for states to develop a next-generation report card under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

This new guide, co-created by our organizations – Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Collaborative Communications Group, Data Quality Campaign, ExcelinEd, Learning Heroes and National PTA – helps states break down the process for creating report cards that are easy for parents and the public to access and understand.

We hope this guide will be a valuable resource as states begin coordinating with data experts, designers, developers, policy and communications experts, parents and community stakeholders to develop accessible and high-quality report cards.

Please share this resource with your networks, and let us know if we can offer any additional support.


Chris Minnich, Executive Director, CCSSO

Katherine Hunt, Senior Vice President, Collaborative Communications Group

 Aimee Guidera, President & CEO, Data Quality Campaign

Patricia Levesque, CEO, ExcelinEd

Bibb Hubbard, Founder & President, Learning Heroes

Laura M. Bay, President, National PTA


View Guide

Introducing the New DQC Website: We’re Putting Students at the Center

w3winner_silverUpdate (11/8/2016): DQC’s website has won a 2016 W3 Award in the education category of websites. The W3 Awards honor creative excellence on the web, and are judged by the Academy of Interactive Visual Arts. 

This spring Collaborative Communications was delighted to partner with Data Quality Campaign and our friends at Social Driver to lead the redesign of Data Quality Campaign’s website. We set out to make the organization’s mission and vision clearer for all audiences by drawing attention to the human side of education data, and to emphasize the campaign aspect of DQC’s work through pathways on the site that drive users to take action around the effective use of education data. Together we developed a friendly, vibrant new site design that is user-friendly, mobile-responsive, and easily maintained by DQC’s staff. Make sure you visit the website’s new resource library, which now offers a curated set of resources that are easily searchable by topic, type and audience.

DQC does incredible work on behalf of students, parents, educators and policymakers, and we’re proud to support them in their efforts to make data work for all students. If you’re interested in partnering with us on a website redesign project, please email Katherine Hunt at hunt@collaborativecommunications.com.

Introducing the New DQC Website: We’re Putting Students at the Center

Reposted from Data Quality Campaign

Students are at the center of the education system. It’s important to us at the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) that they’re at the center of our advocacy too.

We’re committed to the idea that everyone involved in a student’s education journey should have the information they need to support that student. A big component of that access to information is ensuring information is easily found, in an understandable format, and tailored to the unique needs of parents, educators, community members, and policymakers. While we demand that this become a reality for education systems throughout the country, we also know it must be a reality in our own work. In the spirit of practicing what we preach, we’ve redesigned how we present our own resources.

On April 26, with the help of Collaborative Communications and Social Driver, we launched a redesigned website, with a brighter look and feel to our resources. Our primary goal is to make the information we present about the policies, best practices, and current use of education data available and understandable to people at all levels of familiarity. We’re putting people at the center of our advocacy, so no matter where they live, people in every state can use our tools to advocate for students in their community.

So what’s different?

We’ve centered the new site around our big idea: when students, parents, educators, and policymakers have the right information to make decisions, students excel.

Illustration Sketch

We’ve made it easier than ever to learn the basics of student data. Head over to Why Education Data? to learn the what, who, and how of education data use.

Why Education Data Screen Grab

We’ve reorganized our resource library so that all types of advocates, from parents to policymakers, can find the information they need to make education data work for their students.

Resources Screen Grab

Our new vision permeates the entirety of our work. In addition to making information on our website more accessible and understandable to a variety of audiences, our team is changing the way we create our resources as well. We’re including more stories of what great data use looks like on the ground level, so that everyone can see the impact of this important tool on outcomes for students.

With the help of our web development partners and the commitment of the entire DQC team, we’ve been able to practice what we preach and do our best to ensure that all people dedicated to improving education have access to the right information when they need it so that they can best support their students.

The Importance of Branding


One of the most critical aspects of becoming known in your field and having an impact in the education space is branding. Understanding what branding is and why it’s important will give you an edge over other organizations and competitors. But, before we dive into the importance of branding, let’s first recap the highlights from my previous post.

Branding is made up of three parts: a logo, identity elements and the brand itself. Many people tend to think a logo and a brand are the same thing, however, they are not. A logo is a graphic representation of an organization. The logo and brand are linked together by a family of identity (visual) elements, such as business cards, collateral, website, etc. The brand itself refers to how your organization is perceived. Your brand is about the emotional connection your stakeholders have with the work that you do. Developing a plan to execute the three elements of branding is called a brand strategy. Over time, executing this strategic plan results in brand equity—which is imperative for your organization’s success.

Brand equity refers to widespread recognition and loyalty, which is earned through consistent messaging and your organization’s ability to deliver on your mission and achieve impact. Brand equity can be achieved through consumer-based branding and service-based branding. Ultimately, target audiences are what differentiates the two. Each aspect of branding is vital to the success of an organization or company, and each element requires extensive thought and planning—resulting in a comprehensive brand strategy.

Consumer-based branding refers to the branding of products. For example, a toy company called GoldieBlox, which is less than 5 years old, has managed to disrupt their industry, inspire the next generation of female engineers and seize the attention of people across the country with their brand message—encourage women to build structures and write code from an early age to level the playing field in a male-dominated industry. GoldieBlox believes that girls can wear pink skirts and a tool belt at the same time. This compound message flows through every facet of the company, including their products and branding. Due to GoldieBlox’s uniform messaging and aligned visuals, the company has gained brand equity and customer loyalty, both of which help drive their business forward.

Service-based branding follows the same rules as consumer-based branding: construct a logo, create identity elements and a build a brand. A recent example of branding a service-based organization can be found in the newly launched Education Forward DC. Collaborative Communications partnered to develop the new brand and identity package, which included the logo, website and print collateral. As the branding gains momentum, so will brand equity. People will begin to recognize the logo and soon after that, the organization’s message will start to permeate the field.

When creating a new brand, the tasks can be overwhelming and it’s difficult to know where to begin. Typically, the process starts off with a great deal of research and in-depth conversations with the client, which lays the foundation for both the content and visual direction. It’s at this point, when the core message is determined—the message should be short and concise. In the case of Education Forward DC, the core message was “closing the gaps to move forward.” Those thoughtful and precise words paved the way for the messaging and the visual implementation. Let’s take a look at how those words influenced the concept of the logo.


The logo includes words and a symbol which is called a combination mark. The words show movement with the forward leaning “WA,” emphasizing their desire to move the DC education community forward. The message is reinforced with an arrow (symbol) to the right of the words. The small dark blue triangle in the middle of the symbol represents “closing the gaps” which is the cornerstone of their messaging. Both of these visual elements come together to create their logo, which is the foundation for the identity package. Aligning the visuals and content to create a strong brand strategy is essential for creating brand equity.

To better understand these top notch strategies and the weight they carry, we have to understand the “why” first. Why is branding important? Here are the reasons why companies and organizations utilize branding.

  1. Promotes Recognition
    Branding is a key differentiator. When done well, a brand mirrors an organization’s strategic plan.
  2. Creates Clarity
    Strong branding will carry an organization through the ebb and flow of unavoidable challenges in the education space.
  3. Generates Referrals
    Creating a memorable and impactful brand is important. If someone has an exceptional experience with an organization, chances are that they will tell others about that experience.
  4. Sets Expectations
    A brand is the origin of a promise to an organization’s key stakeholders. A consistent brand creates brand equity and credibility.
  5. Provides Direction for Staff
    Communicating the goals of the brand strategy to organizational staff will provide them with clarity and help ensure their success and the success of the work.
  6. Increases Value
    The value of most businesses come from intangible assets. An organization’s brand is its most powerful intangible asset.

Branding transcends the art of the logo and graphic elements. When you think about branding, everything from the identity package to the impact you have on your stakeholders makes up the brand—a promise to your constituents. This promise tells your audiences about the character of your organization, what you believe and the value you are going to provide. How does your brand impact how others perceive the work that you do?

Now that we understand the importance of branding, in my next blog we’ll address the significance of brand protection from both an internal and external perspective. First, we’ll focus on the internal protection, diving into brand guidelines and how to implement them for your organization. Then we’ll address the importance of protecting brands externally. Stay tuned!

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Facebook are the top five most valuable brands in the world for 2016 according to Forbes. What’s their secret to success? In my opinion, top notch branding strategies!

We hope you enjoy my blog series and if you have any suggestions or comments, please email me at holley@collaborativecommunications.com.

At Collaborative we dedicate our work to supporting education and learning by helping a wide variety of education nonprofits with their communications needs. Click to learn more about Collaborative and our services.

Collaborative is Hiring: Digital Project Manager

Collaborative is entrepreneurial and mission-driven. Our rapidly growing digital practice is helping leading organizations in the United States and around the world extend their influence by making data meaningful and actionable, and combining technology and creative solutions that are not only beautiful, but have impact. Through expert consulting services and award-winning products, we are building momentum and results—within our own organization and for those we serve.

We’re looking for a self-motivated, highly effective individual with extensive digital and project management experience—and a strong understanding of digital strategy, content strategy and storytelling—to join our team as Digital Project Manager.

The ideal new team member will be able to:

  • Facilitate the delivery and management of websites and online tools;
  • Lead projects and teams;
  • Deliver quality products on time and within scope and budget in a fast-paced, team-oriented professional environment; and
  • Remain aware of new and emerging technologies and their potential application for client engagements.


The Digital Project Manager will:

  • Lead the development of and create content for various digital products, including websites, data visualizations and video;
  • Consult directly with clients on digital solutions, helping to make decisions based on project goals, align to digital best practices and clarify project vision;
  • Independently direct website development and related digital projects;
  • Develop effective project plans to best support defined strategies and client deliverables;
  • Manage project scope, budget and timeline;
  • Actively engage in team and client strategy sessions, and support and manage trainings and launch events for clients;
  • Cultivate and sustain effective relationships with team members, clients and partners, media sources, and consultants and vendors;
  • Help to develop the Collaborative brand and expand the organization’s footprint.


Collaborative is a strong fit for professionals who want their work to matter; who possess strong drive, confidence and self-motivation; who demonstrate a willingness to work with others to achieve better results than can be accomplished alone; and who are resourceful, accountable, tenacious problem-solvers.

The successful candidate will have:

  • Bachelor’s degree and experience managing the creation of digital tools in the service of strategic goals;
  • Exceptional communications skills, combined with the ability to work with people at all levels of an organization;
  • Demonstrated leadership and management skills, including technical teams;
  • Ability to facilitate technical decision-making, both independently and in coordination with a client;
  • Familiarity with a range of database and CMS solutions and UX practices;
  • Experience with the development of project timelines, milestones, budget reports, technical requirements and user documentation;
  • Experience solving client or customer problems through the application of appropriate technical solutions, particularly as relevant to non-profit organizations and government agencies;
  • Experience with new and social media writing in a professional setting.
  • Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience. This is full-time position, based in our Metro-accessible Washington, DC, office. Collaborative offers premium benefits.


Please visit http://www.collaborativecommunications.com to find more information about Collaborative’s award-winning products and services, as well as our corporate capabilities, values, philosophy, practice areas and client base. Please combine a cover letter and resume into a single file and send via e-mail (with subject line “Digital Project Manager”) to jobs@collaborativecommunications.com. Resumes will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the position is filled.


Collaborative Communications is a strategic consulting firm devoted to developing collaborative solutions to education, workforce and community challenges. Leading philanthropic, education and non-profit organizations, as well as universities and corporations hire Collaborative to achieve their strategic goals through superior communications, management, consulting and engagement services. We build tools, processes and products that are intended to accelerate learning and productivity and that regularly produce breakthrough results.

The statements in this description represent typical elements, criteria and general work performed. They are not intended to be construed as an exhaustive list of all responsibilities, duties and skills for this job. 

Collaborative is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer. It is a strongly held value of Collaborative that power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability or age. All candidates will be evaluated on a merit basis.

The One Constant in a Decade of Digital Work

I recently joined the Collaborative team as the Senior Digital Project Manager. In this role, I’ll be guiding and advising clients as we work together to ensure that websites, social media and content marketing plans are aligned, engaging and, most importantly, breaking through the noise of today’s digital landscape.

Clients started asking me the question “How do I improve my website?” back when Geocities hosted webpages and the blink tag, in all its irritating glory, was a thing. The question was much simpler in the early days of the Internet, and the answers were much easier to provide.

Today, the game has changed a little. There are so many components tied to making a website—and organization—thrive in a digital world. Questions are no longer just about website improvement; they’re broader. Now they’re about creating a successful digital presence. More likely than not, clients have begun to dig deeper, asking questions like:

  • How do I get more people to sign up for my email list?
  • What’s a good number of Facebook likes?
  • Should we be reaching out to influencers on Twitter? Wait, what’s a Twitter influencer?
  • How do I know my digital marketing is working?
  • What is responsive design, and should my website use it?
  • How do I execute a content marketing campaign if my organization doesn’t have the time to produce content?

Today’s shifting digital landscape requires us to track so many more variables. There’s a lot more data to sift through, multiple tools to understand and channels to reach users. But we can still get to actionable answers that expand your digital reach and amplify your organization’s message!

And that will be the goal of this blog series: to explain and empower nonprofit leaders like you with approaches to taking advantage of these digital opportunities. We’ll discuss all the questions above, in the context of exploring:

  • How to define your users, your goals for your website and even why you have a website;
  • The discovery, documentation, and requirements processes that every website (and digital project) requires;
  • Digital marketing and reaching your users wherever they are online; and,
  • The latest digital trends and buzzwords, to see how they relate to your work.

In this blog, I will likely introduce a lot of new terms, concepts and possibilities, but I will also help you understand and use these ideas in everyday efforts to reach your audiences.

Still, amazingly, amid all these changes, “How can I improve my website?” is a valid and useful question, and a great place to start your digital improvement journey. If we can agree on the assumption that your website is really there for your users and one of their first stops toward learning about your organization, you can start with this exercise:

Take out a pen and paper and write down the three main actions you want users to take when they land on your website. Examples of this could be “submit email address for the user to receive email updates,” “have the user click into a resource section to gain background on a specific issue” or “download a PDF.”

Now, bring up your website and write down answers to the following three questions:

  • Do we clearly communicate a request to take those actions?
  • Do we clearly articulate to the user the benefit in taking these actions?
  • Do we make it easy for the user to take those actions? (How many clicks are needed, how many forms need to be filled out, etc.)

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then expand on that answer by articulating how the situation could be improved. By taking this next step—explaining how you want to change the site, not just that it needs to change—you’ve already done two important things: taken the first (and hardest!) step toward creating a website requirements document, and you’ve framed up how to increase user engagement on your website.

In my next post, I’ll dive into what to do with that information. In the meantime, I’m issuing an open invitation: If you have a topic you’d like covered here, feel free to reach out. You can find me via email, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Writing a Great Call to Action: Going Beyond “Click Here”

I admit it, I’m guilty of relying on the “Click here for more information” sentence. It’s a lazy and ineffective way of making a call to action. If you’ve been relying on “Click Here,” it’s time to step up your call to action game with the following tips.

Make it Actionable

Provide a clear next step for your user. Explain the benefit the user will get when they take action. Kahoot provides an exciting call to action that tells the user exactly what they’re getting.


Another great example comes from Stoodle.


Make it Emotional

Calls to action that include emotional appeals will lead to more clicks and more conversions. Strategize on how you can tap into a user’s curiosity, fears of getting left behind, love and anger. The call to action below appeals to a user’s sense of belonging.


Make it Short

Be direct and keep it short.


Make it Easy

Don’t make your call to action complicated.


No matter what you want your user to do—subscribe, register, download a document or provide feedback—take a step back, put yourself in your user’s shoes and develop a call to action that would compel you to act.

5 Reasons Your Organization Should be Paying Attention to Snapchat

It wasn’t too long ago that the CEO of Snapchat was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to convince people that his app was more than a tool for sexting teens. In just a few years, Snapchat has grown to be a social media behemoth that advertisers, media outlets and even the White House are taking quite seriously. Here are five reasons that organizations should be keeping an eye on Snapchat.

  1. 100 Million. That’s how many people are opening the app every day, according to Bloomberg. Snapchat is moving into Facebook’s territory by delivering 7 billion video clips a day, which is close to the number of video views on Facebook — which has 15 times more users.
  2. Forty percent of Snapchat users are 18-24, and seventy percent are under the age of 34. So yes, the platform’s demographics skew younger, but you shouldn’t dismiss the importance of the app or its future potential. The Wall Street Journal recently became the first U.S. newspaper on Snapchat’s Discover page even though the average age of a Journal reader is 50. It’s making a long-term bet according to the Journal’s Carla Zanoni. Snapchat users “share many core values with our current readers,” Zanoni said. Snapchat is likely to grow, and so will its users.
  3. More people watched the Snapchat Live Story montage feature about the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards than watched the actual awards on TV. Fast Company argues that Snapchat is bringing back the 1970s TV experience–offering limited choices to those with limited time. And that’s not a bad thing in a flooded media landscape.
  4. Snapchat is becoming increasingly appealing to advertisers. It plans to allow targeted ads based on a user’s past behavior, and may be moving towards allowing brands to target ads based on web browsing and search behavior outside of the app.
  5. The app may be preparing to add audio and video messaging features –similar to Skype or Facetime–according to the LA Times. This could be a powerful tool for organizations looking to improve on webinars and live broadcasts–which are often too long and have limited appeal.

What are your thoughts on Snapchat? Is it a passing fad? Is it worth your organization investing its time and resources into yet another platform? Tell me in the comments below, or tweet me at @chbrenchley.


The Conversation Continues about Improving School Report Card Designs

We’re glad to see that two months after the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) announced the results of the My School Information Design Challenge, the conversation about report cards as accessible, actionable tools for policymakers and families continues.2015-02-26-MSIC-Press-Release-300x214

Last week, ExcelinEd published a report sharing their findings from the My School Information Design Challenge. ExcelinEd explains in the report that the design challenge sought to inspire the development of the next generation of school report cards. Our winning design with our colleagues at SocialDriver, as well as many of the other submissions, displayed the following characteristics of effective report cards:

  • User-centered design, including information summaries, drill-down access, customization, translation, and multiple modalities.
  • Functionality that empowers action, allows easy navigation and provides comprehensive and comparable information.

Education Daily also wrote about the results of My School Info in “Experts: Collaborate with families to redesign report cards.” (Read the full piece here.)

In the story, Collaborative’s founding partner Kris Kurtenbach said “removing barriers to engagement makes information a ‘gateway’ so ‘a parent has a better understanding of the school and can contact the principal to ask a question, begin a conversation, and really make a connection.’”

We are thrilled to be part of the movement to make public reporting the start of a conversation between schools and communities. What do you think are essential elements of effective school report cards? Share your thoughts with us at info@collaborativecommunications.com.