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Protocol Toolkit Item: 7b


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This protocol provides a structure for examining data. It allows participants to reflect on and interpret data, share their observations, and make collective meaning. It leads to decision-making based on the data and protocol experience.


  • Guess What?…Now What? Participant Document
  • Group Working Agreements or Norms
  • Individual copies of data to be examined 


60 Minutes


The Guess What? Here’s What! So What? Now What? protocol for examining data is structured, focused, and results in decisions about the next steps for the group. The process begins with participants predicting what they think the data may show. Each step takes participants deeper into understanding what the data shows and possible explanations and interpretations. It concludes with participants committing to act on the data, a critical data analysis component. Like many other data protocols, the process and steps support participants in objectively examining the data first by diving deeply into precisely what the data shows without judgment or analysis. Only after observing the facts of the data is it best to make meaning and explain the possible reasons contributing to the data. Ultimately, data that is not acted upon has very little power. One of the most important purposes of examining data is to use it to enact change and growth. The final step shifts a group toward crucial next steps. This protocol works best in small groups of 4-8 people. Large groups should be broken into smaller teams. When first learning the protocol’s process, it is best to have a facilitator walk through the steps and keep track of time. As participants become more familiar with the protocol, they can use it without formal facilitation. The data the group will be examining needs to be prepared and copied. Data should be in a format that is easy for all participants to review and understand. Be aware of the amount of data that is shared. It is easier for participants to examine and deeply understand small chunks of data rather than being provided large amounts that can seem overwhelming in one sitting.   Virtual Implementation
  • Teams must meet in breakout rooms as they work through the protocol.
  • Electronic versions of the data will need to be available for participants.
  • If participants are unfamiliar with this protocol, each breakout room will need a facilitator.
  • Electronic versions of the Guess What?..Now What? Participant Document must be shared with all participants.


Step 1:

Introduce Protocol (1-5 minutes) Share the following information with participants:
  • Introduce the protocol using the information in the activity preparation section.
  • The steps in this protocol are:
    • Guess What?  Participants will predict what they think the data will show. Write their predictions and then share them with the group/team.
    • Here’s What! Participants will examine the data objectively, noting observations about what the data is showing. This is not the time to analyze or interpret the data. They share their observations with their group/team.
    • So What? Participants now get to analyze and interpret the data. They note what the data means and what might contribute to the results.
    • Now What? Participants decide how they can act on the data. This step is essential, leading to action rather than just examining data. This step leads to a commitment to action for participants.
  • Orient the participants to the data that they will be examining.
    • Describe the data (e.g., standardized test scores, attendance rates, or survey results) and how to read the data document(s). It may be helpful to display a copy and visually describe how to read the data tables and/or graphs.
Note: By orienting participants to the data and how it is organized, participants will be better able to complete the protocol steps. Participants will spend more time on the protocol steps instead of trying to understand how to “read” the data document.

Step 2:

Review group working agreements and outcomes (2 minutes)
  • Review group working agreements or norms. 
  • Facilitator(s) states the desired outcome of data examination (e.g., “At the end of our time, we should collaboratively develop next steps or suggested goals that we can refine and communicate to district leaders.”).
Note: If the group does not already have working agreements or group norms for professional collaboration, they should develop them before beginning the protocol.

Step 3:

Protocol Review (2 min)
  • Distribute and review the Guess What?…Now What? Participant Document. Wait to give participants the data until the next step.
  • Inform participants that they will complete each quadrant in order without jumping ahead.
  • Tell participants they will fill in a quadrant individually and then share what they’ve written with the group or team.
  • Inform the group that after reviewing possible ideas from the What’s Next quadrant, the group/team will commit to acting on one or more of their ideas.

Step 4:

Guess What? (5-8 min)
  • Participants take 3 minutes to predict what they think the data will show. They should write their predictions in the Guess What? quadrant.
  • Facilitator(s) uses a round-robin or other format to allow participants to share their predictions. Participants should share one prediction at a time, rotating through the group until all predictions have been shared or time elapses.

Step 5:

Here’s What! (15-20 min)
  • Facilitator(s) distributes the data document to all participants.
  • Participants should spend 8-10 minutes looking at the data document and writing their factual observations of the data on the Here’s What! quadrant.
  • Facilitator(s) should remind participants that their statements should be objective and state the facts about what the data show. As much as possible, statements should be Refined Observations (see page 3 of Guess What?…Now What? Participant Document.)
  • After participants have time to examine the data and write their observations, they will share them with the group or team. 
  • Using a round-robin format (or another process that ensures all participants get a turn), participants will share what they have written in the Here’s What! quadrant.
  • Participants share one observation at a time, taking turns until all observations have been shared with the group/team or the time has elapsed.

Step 6:

So What? (8-10 min)
  • Participants individually note their interpretations of the data in the So What? quadrant. They should consider why the data show what it does, what the data means, and what might contribute to the results. 
  • After 3-4 minutes, the facilitator(s) will ask participants to share.
  • Use the same format described in earlier steps. Move on to the next step after all have shared their responses or the time has elapsed.

Step 7:

Now What? (15-20 min)
  • Facilitator(s) reminds the group how important it is that data are not only examined and analyzed but data are acted upon and used for improvement. 
  • Participants will have 5 minutes to individually note their ideas for what the group or team should do next because of what they learned from the data. They write these ideas in the Now What? quadrant. 
  • Participants will use a round-robin (or other) format to share what they have written in the Now What? quadrant, as they did in previous steps.
  • After participants have shared all their ideas, they agree on one or more next steps they can take.
  • The decision should be made through consensus. All participants must support and commit to the group decision for the next steps.
  • Finalize by having the group write out their decision and plan for a follow-up meeting/session to check progress.

Resources & Further Reading

Examples of Use

  • This protocol can be used with all data types, qualitative or quantitative. 
  • This protocol can help groups examine and provide input and feedback on budget information, student work samples, and survey results.
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