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News & Info

Not As Easy As It Seems: The Challenges and Opportunities to Build Community Capacity to Use Data for Decisions and Solutions

Achieving health equity requires building communities’ capacity to mobilize, organize, and strategize to change the conditions—or social determinants of health—that impact their well-being. Community and resident-driven organizations need data to 1) bring attention to the disparities and move people into action, 2) understand the root causes and organize across sectors to deal with those root causes, 3) inform solutions that will create lasting change, and 4) monitor the change to continuously adapt and improve the solutions. To achieve all these, communities have to be able to access, share, and transform data into actionable knowledge.

Section 4302 of the Affordable Care Act and the federal government’s increased willingness and capacity to make data available to the public have elevated the importance of data in generating solutions to end health inequities. Today’s technology has stimulated the expansion of data platforms that allow users to download data and use data visualization techniques to illustrate health, education, housing, and other disparities by race and ethnicity, gender, geography, and other variables. Many guides have been published to assist communities to access and use data. In addition, there are many national organizations and groups such as the Community Indicators Consortium, National Neighborhood Indicators Project, and Healthy Communities Institute that are actively working with local data collaboratives to facilitate a learning community of people working at the nexus of data analytics and community change. There are even more local organizations with a similar agenda, such as The Piton Foundation, DataHaven, and Data Driven Detroit that are serving as intermediaries for data gathering, analysis, and use.

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The Community Data Collaboration Project: Developing and Testing a Framework for Community Data Use Capacity

Data-informed strategies are critical to efforts that address health disparities and make progress toward health equity. Administrative data, as well as other national and local data, offer a wealth of resources that can be put to good use. Community Science and its partner, Community Indicators Consortium, is working with a federal agency to mine lessons from the field about facilitating community collaboration around the use of administrative and other secondary data related to social determinants of health.  

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Staff Profile: Allyssa Allen

Allyssa Allen, Ph.D., Senior Analyst, has expertise in health equity and social determinants of health (SDOH) such as neighborhood-level food insecurity, income inequality, and residential segregation. She has worked on a variety of projects, including substantial experience working with grassroots organizations to use data to guide intervention and policy strategies. Dr. Allen has collaborated with the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation and the Baltimore Place Matters Team (Equity Matters) to pair neighborhood indicators from various public use sources with qualitative interviews about the local food environment. In her work on the National Institute on Aging’s Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across the Life Span (HANDLS) study, she combined individual-level health data with neighborhood indicators to understand the SDOH in Baltimore City neighborhoods. Dr. Allen is skilled in community engagement as well as participatory and community-based research and evaluation methodologies. She has been recognized by the Baltimore City Council for her community work in Druid Heights and by the Warnock Foundation as a Social Innovator for her ideas on how to repair relationships between researchers and communities. 

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Community Science Day of Service

On April 28, Community Science participated in its semi-annual day of service at A Wider Circle. A Wider Circle is a nonprofit organization based in Silver Spring, Maryland, with a mission to end poverty. A Wider Circle focuses on the whole person through various services targeting workforce readiness, wellness, and housing. Community Science staff spent the day sorting furniture and clothing, and restocking the showroom. 

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It Is Time to Take a Look at Collaborating for Equity and Justice

Collaborating for community or other types of social changes is not a recent idea. Formal community collaborations have been documented, along with corresponding literature, for almost 150 years. Explicit federal and philanthropic funding for collaborative efforts to address social issues began to burgeon during the 1980s. Before the end of the last century, it was rare to find a public or private Request for Proposal or grant program in the health and human services that did not require some form of collaboration, whether it was called a coalition, partnership, or collaborative. 

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Emerging Action Principles for Designing and Planning Community Change (March 2015)

Community Matters! Decades of scientific research have shown that being part of a supportive, inclusive and capable community promotes mental, physical, and social well-being more than any other factors known to the social and medical sciences. Our publication series, Community Matters: Action Principles, Frameworks, and Strategies, shares what science and practice have taught us about building and strengthening community. The first publication in this series, “Emerging Principles for Designing and Implementing Community Change,” has just been released.


Local Voices: On-the-Ground Perspectives on Driving Community Change in the Making Connections Sites (July 2014)

This report describes, from the perspective of local stakeholders, the experience of several sites involved in Making Connections — the Foundation’s signature community change initiative of the 2000s — in developing and enhancing the core capacities essential for articulating and pursuing a local community change agenda. The report describes the conditions in the communities when Making Connections began; the core capacities built during the decade-long initiative; the factors that contributed to capacity building; the evidence of improved outcomes for children, families and neighborhoods resulting from the enhanced change capacities; the continuing challenges of sustaining those capacities; and key takeaways from the experience.  


Addressing Health Disparities Through Organizational Change-Evaluation Report (April 2012)

In 2006, The Colorado Trust funded 14 organizations to improve their cultural competency in order to strengthen their capacity to reduce health disparities.  Community Science was engaged to evaluate the initiative, specifically assessing: 1) changes in cultural competency among grantees, 2) the influence of cultural competency changes on grantee interventions and short -term outcomes, 3) factors and conditions needed to bring about positive changes in organizational cultural competency, and 4) grantee progress and accomplishments over time.  


The Importance of Culture in Evaluation

The Importance of Culture in Evaluation, a publication funded by The Colorado Trust, provides insights to help guide the complex dynamics between evaluators, funders and stakeholders of different cultures. The report provides examples of where cross-cultural competency is critical in evaluation and recommends questions and strategies that an evaluator should consider when practicing this form of cultural competency.