Before an education agency begins developing a new system—writing code or an RFP—time should be taken for reflection or "discovery." That is, before beginning its LDS journey, an agency should figure out where "here" is (what it has) and then carefully plan where "there" will be (what it will have). This often overlooked phase should begin at the start of the LDS development process with the engagement of a broad range of stakeholders, a thorough and collective self-assessment, and the identification of what the current system and environment look like. The resulting information, of course, will vary widely among organizations in terms of technology, applications, data, politics, resources, and other relevant factors. Once an agency has clearly established its "here," it can pinpoint where it wants to go by thoroughly assessing stakeholders' needs, then move on to carefully planning their desired system. When the self- and needs-assessments are complete, agencies should compare their "here" and "there" analyses to figure out how the current data system and organizational culture will need to change in order to fulfill the stakeholders' stated needs.
The following chapters address these crucial early stages of the LDS development process. While the activities of engaging stakeholders, conducting self-assessments, and identifying needs are commonly referred to collectively as "needs assessment," they are disaggregated here and discussed as distinct yet interrelated parts of the planning process.