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Interviews from Notable Contributors to Community Science

In continuation of celebrating Community Science’s 20th anniversary, we are interviewing past and current major contributors to the impact of Community Science. This issue in the series includes a group interview with Margaret (Meg) Hargreaves, Ph.D., Principal Associate, and Amy Minzner, M.S.C.R.P., M.A., Senior Associate. For detailed staff profiles from each contributor, visit the Our Community page on our website. The interview was conducted by Nour Elshabassi (NE), Research Assistant.

NE: What brought you to Community Science?

Meg: Throughout my career, I have been interested in and involved in doing community-based work, especially in public health. I have been interested in getting back to doing community-based work, even when I was working for other research and consulting firms. Finally, the stars aligned so that I could join Community Science and get back to that topic more full time.

Amy: I was attracted to the opportunity to leverage my place-based evaluation work with the work of others to deepen our collective ability to help create more healthy, just, and equitable communities.

NE: How has your work at Community Science advanced its mission to build healthy, just, and equitable communities?

Meg: Most of my projects evaluate change at multiple levels, including programs, organizations, systems, and communities. Larger policy levels often cross all those levels, and community change is one of those levels of activity. So, for example, one project is about evaluating how to build healthy communities in California. Another recent one is how to build a collective community capacity to address childhood trauma at the community level in Washington State. Another project, which is on climate change, also involves community change and is looking at how to mitigate and adapt to climate change at community, regional, national, and international levels. It is really about aligning change across levels—especially community-level change.

Amy: The role that I am playing, supporting the team and the work for National Resource Center, could be described as work to enhance the safety and well-being of children and helping to understand how TA [technical assistance] is helping further that. I’ve jumped in and really supported our efforts to make sure that we do that well and provide meaningful insights from the process. Additionally, my contributions include expanding our community development area, which includes community-driven and equitable development.

NE: What do you like most about working at Community Science?

Amy: I really appreciate the passion of fellow staff members and feel like everyone is equally committed to our mission of helping to support healthy, just, and equitable communities. It feels like you have a starting place where everybody shares the commitment and then combining everyone’s individual expertise, either methodologically or substantively, that really is so critical when you are trying to achieve change, when everything is so complex and interrelated. I feel like people respect each other, which I appreciate, and the culture. I personally really appreciate the diversity of the workforce. I think it is representative of what we are trying to support out in the world, and I like that we have created that community within the organization also.

Meg: Really echo what Amy said. First of all, people can talk about supporting increasing health equity, but here at Community Science, people really walk the talk. It is nice to assume that everyone is working off the same set of values, which is really unusual, especially in research and consulting, when this mission often does not drive the work or there isn’t such a focused mission that really concentrates and focuses the work. I have also appreciated working with a diverse set of colleagues since my earliest days when I worked in Minnesota’s state human rights enforcement agency, investigating state and federal discrimination complaints. It is great to get back to that environment, because it really enriches the work that gets done, by bringing a great diversity of perspectives and understandings of these issues. So, I think that it goes hand in hand, the mission and the diversity of the employees who are really helping to make it happen. Together that makes Community Science a special place to work. 

NE: What has been your biggest learning experience while working at Community Science?

Meg: Very often, in other places, people talk about capacity building in a very generic kind of way. You do not really understand—and often they do not really understand—what they are talking about. Here, I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects where we really pulled apart that concept and really looked at the research behind it. Now I understand it on a much deeper and more nuanced level than before. I think it’s a very important community change strategy, and so the more we know about it, the more we understand how to measure and evaluate it, the better our work is. So, it’s been a nice opportunity for me to actually get into that research literature and understand at a much deeper level what that means.

Amy: I think it’s actually merging my background and the perspective of what the staff here have learned. Here, the emphasis is on empowering community and really making sure the community has equal power or you can’t really have transformative change. Historically, my work has considered how we maximize the involvement of institutions, particularly local government, to bring about community change. Since coming to Community Science, I now have a better vision of using the best of institutions, but also keeping the perspective of community power—thinking critically about how to find a middle place in that and explore that integration for change. I think, often times, people come from the silos of their perspective and don’t meet in the middle. It’s exciting for me to be in that place of coming from both perspectives to the middle and then how do we use that for informing change.

NE: What impact do you see Community Science making in the future?

Amy: In some ways, it’s the continuation of what I was just talking about. I think David and me—thinking about how we pull our experiences and our insights to support the community change work being done. These problems are so complex, and evaluating them is even more complex, so using that experience to be part of a resource for communities and funders as they continue to try to unravel how to facilitate and transform places that need help to achieve our mission of building healthy, just, and equitable communities—that’s the impact I see us making in the future.

Meg: Very often in evaluation projects, organizations and funders have focused on individual client-level services and programs. And they think of broad population change or community change as simply replicating those programs in lots of different places. There’s a whole implementation science that’s been built up around how you take programs and adapt them and replicate them all over the place. That approach misses a whole set of important strategies that are important to community change. I think Community Science has a really important role in developing an implementation science of community change that isn’t just about spreading client-level programs, but is really about all the other kinds of strategies that need to occur at a certain breadth or scope and scale to really have a difference and make a difference at a population level. That is a gap in the current evaluation field, and it’s an important niche that Community Science not only contributes to in research, in terms of doing that work, but also writing it up and synthesizing it and disseminating that new knowledge. Disseminating our knowledge through our projects, in terms of what is the science of implementing change at a community level—I think this needs to happen so that we are not just repeating strategies that, on their face, aren’t sufficient to create community change. We need to shift the mindset of what’s needed for community change, and we need to provide and build the knowledge base about how to do that effectively.

Amy: We’ve seen a couple of recent programs where there are initiatives that funders are trying to support—they’re trying to engage community development organizations. They’re trying to sort of help them understand surrounding problems. So, a community development organization often will focus on housing, helping people get housed, or helping people get jobs, and we’ve interacted with one funder who is trying to help them understand how their work is effecting health outcomes. We’ve seen another funder that’s trying to help community development organizations understand how art and creative place making can bring about their intended objectives. I think with our background of understanding community development organizations, also understanding public health, understanding social determinants of health, understanding creative place making, we’re in this niche position of trying to help bridge those gaps to understand there are these existing institutions that have been working for a very long time. If they had a broader perspective of how their work integrates into these other factors that are effecting their community, there might be more substantive and meaningful change. So, being able to use our diverse experience and our understanding of evaluating complex community change to help facilitate some of that forward movement that we’re seeing in the field.

We have experience in how to build capacity and how to understand if it has happened or not, as well as having an understanding of the breadth of measures in these different, distinct fields. You are trying to help them understand, “If I help someone get a house, does that actually help them be healthier and how?” Or if we are trying to transform a place, maybe you want to think about how you can use the culture of the place to actually bring about vitality that might make it more attractive and actually bring about its economic development. It’s being a bridge; it’s bridging these different fields that I think people are seeing these bridges are needed. And from our perspective, both from evaluation as well as substance, we have a place to be able to support that work. 

NE: How do you see yourself contributing to the future of Community Science and its mission?

Meg: I think what I can contribute to Community Science is I have a history of writing to multiple audiences and having my work published in a range of venues, including project reports, peer-reviewed journals, methods papers, blogs, etc. Lots of different venues and lots of different channels are needed to communicate that information. For example, we have a well-distributed and well-respected newsletter, and what we say in that newsletter really can have an impact. That’s an example of how we can help disseminate that information.

Amy: I think I do have a slightly different background than most people, and so I try to use that to challenge our assumptions and to think about the other voices in the field and making sure our work is relevant to the various actors and bringing that perspective of planning of workforce, of economic development, the substantive expertise that I’ve had, bringing that into our community change work.

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