As QIP’s senior communications specialist, Laura Thompson’s chief responsibility is producing publications for the Education Data Technical Assistance Program (EDTAP)—documents primarily geared toward sharing best practices about building and using longitudinal data systems.
Though she described it as “a little bit of a niche interest,” it fits easily into her background in public policy and communications, and she feeds off the enthusiasm of experts in the field.
“We get to interact a lot with people who work in state governments, on state education agencies and state IT programs, who live in the world of data systems, and it’s fun to talk to them because they so clearly see the value of what they’re trying to do,” Laura said. “It’s kind of infectious, and it’s easy to get engaged.”
According to a client of QIP, Laura is “incredibly responsive and accommodating to our plan requests and those that might come ‘out of the blue.’ She makes everything work when things that aren’t part of the original plan come her way.”
Each year, EDTAP develops about 35 best practice publications, including briefs, webinar summaries, videos and toolkits. As of the end of June, 21 of those publications for 2020 already had been completed. As QIP’s Communications & Content team lead on the EDTAP contract, Laura oversees the planning, drafting, editing, design, and online distribution of those publications.
“On top of that,” Laura said, “we have a broader communications role. We do a little bit of everything. We manage content on the program’s websites; we put out e-newsletters; we prepare materials for events like conference programs and signs and PowerPoint presentations and handouts. We handle any communications that need to go out or that need to happen for the program.”
A key to all these forms of communication is conveying complex and technical information in a way that’s clear and easy to understand. Laura, along with all the members of QIP’s editorial team, is a member of the Center for Plain Language.
“I think we’re pretty adept at dropping into a policy area or a set of knowledge or jargon that we’re not intimately familiar with and trying to extract the really key points, and being able to take a little bit of an outsider’s perspective,” Laura said, “thinking about what’s the essential information here and how would I explain that to somebody who, like me, doesn’t live in this world all of the time.”
Laura is “gifted at synthesizing complex concepts around data and technology into accessible prose,” the client said.
Another important part of Laura’s work is ensuring that all publications and communications comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires all federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This is best achieved by taking that into consideration at the start of any project.
“It’s definitely a consideration with any kind of product that we’re putting out,” Laura said. “We do a lot of publications for EDTAP, and we have that process pretty well down pat. But we’re always looking for different ways to present information and to share information, and so if we’re developing new types of products, whether they’re infographics or charts or something like that, it’s something that we try to keep in mind.”
Reflecting on the most interesting and challenging projects she has worked on, Laura singled out the creation of videos in 2015 for the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Grant Program (SLDS), of which EDTAP is a part. She said QIP was just starting in video production, and SLDS needed three instructional videos “in a very tight turnaround.”
Laura was working with Mary Barron, now QIP’s proposal manager, on EDTAP at the time, and they collaborated with QIP’s graphics team.
“We used Prezi, the presentation software, and figured out how to adapt a process that could deliver what was needed with the resources that we had on hand,” Laura said. “And it was very successful.”
With the subsequent expansion of QIP’s video and graphics team, that approach isn’t necessary anymore, she said. “But expanding into that new medium for us was exciting—trying to figure out what we could accomplish and how.”
Laura is “unbelievably reliable. We never have to worry that she will let something slip,” according to the client. “She does what she needs to do to keep us all on track."
Before joining QIP in 2013, Laura worked as a communications coordinator for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Washington, D.C.; communications assistant for the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University; communications intern at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and staff reporter at The Mount Airy News in Mount Airy, N.C.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in public administration from The Ohio State University.
Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Reston, Va.
Read some of the publications Laura has drafted, designed, and made 508 compliant, based on information from subject matter experts and state SLDS programs:
EDTAP video examples: