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Making a Difference with Data

In November of 2012, Community Science leaders and staff designed and facilitated the Knowledge For Equity Conference, which aimed to help community-based organizations in their efforts to better use data and other sources of knowledge to promote health equity and address health disparities.

Opening speaker J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, gave attendees a summary of efforts by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase data access and use, and emphasized the importance of aggregated data in driving solutions to bring more equity to the availability and accessibility of health care.
Dr. Gracia is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health (Acting) and the Acting Director of the Office of Minority Health at HHS, and offered this unique insight:

"Community-based organizations and leaders like you are central to this knowledge transformation and dissemination process. You are on the ground collecting the data, identifying what works and what doesn't work, and using data to mobilize people into action.  And that's why, at HHS, we have looked to partner with community-based organizations in our efforts to end health disparities."
Dr. Gracia also highlighted HHS' plans and roadmap for addressing health disparities, including the Department's first-ever Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, which outlines specific goals and actions HHS will take to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. "Commitments to action to end health disparities and achieve health equity are occurring throughout HHS and across the federal government, and in communities across the country," she said. "Improving data quality and data access are part of these commitments."

These commitments tie back to Community Science's conduct of Data Makes A Difference workshops in each of the ten HHS regions in October 2012.

The conference's plenary address was delivered by Stephen Thomas, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the University of Maryland Center for health Equity/School of Public Health. 

Dr. Thomas set an impassioned tone for the conference; defined key terms such as health equity, health disparities, and social determinants; discussed key concepts such as the importance of "democratizing data"; and emphasized the importance of explicitly recognizing racism as relevant in the scientific pursuit of solutions to eliminate health disparities. 
Dr. Thomas also presented a framework that mapped out the "four generations of health disparities research to achieve health equity" (Thomas, 2011) including, first, document the existence of health disparities; second, explain the reasons; third, provide solutions; and fourth, "take action!"

In addition to expert speakers like Dr. Gracia and Dr. Thomas, the November 13-14 conference also included 34 workshops, a town hall meeting, and four presentations on how to collect, analyze, synthesize, and use existing national, state, and local community data.

In attendance were 213 members of community-based efforts (coalitions, grassroots organizations, etc.) and nonprofit organizations, who have used or want to use data to advance their health equity or health disparities work and would like to improve their data capacity.

Coming away from the conference, attendees had a clearer picture of their roles in the collection, dissemination, and use of data - as well as improved skills and knowledge of the data sources available from federal agencies to reach their goal of promoting health equity.

For 70% of the attendees, it was the first time they had attended a conference about data to inform their health disparities work and left with improved knowledge and confidence in how to collect and use data. For a description of the conference, visit:

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