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Interviews with Notable Contributors to Community Science: Pete York

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 an interview with Pete York, M.S.S.A., Principal Associate. Mr. York has over 20 years of experience as a consultant and researcher in the evaluation and nonprofit fields as well as a national spokesperson for social impact and impact measurement issues. He has designed and led numerous research and evaluation studies with private philanthropies, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Examples include the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Gap, Inc., the Philadelphia Zoo, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, The California Endowment, the Center for Employment Opportunities, Camp Fire USA, YMCA of the USA, etc. He has authored book chapters, academic and professional articles, and a book on the topic of evaluation for philanthropists, Funder's Guide to Evaluation: Leveraging Evaluation to Improve Nonprofit Effectiveness. For a full, detailed staff profile, 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?

Pete: I've had a long-term relationship with Community Science going back to a project for The California Endowment. David Chavis (Community Science CEO and Principal Associate) was facilitating a national group of evaluators to help guide the foundation on how to evaluate their placed-based policy change initiative. David and I connected on the work, as well as our overall values and approach to evaluation, research, and systems change. After that, we always found time to connect, catch up, and share what we were learning. During the 2016 American Evaluation Association conference, we reconnected over breakfast. He was sharing the great systems and community change work that Community Science was doing and the direction that they were heading with respect to using big data as a tool for change. I shared the exciting work I’d been doing over the past few years using big administrative datasets to build predictive, prescriptive, and evaluation models for government agencies and nonprofits, including innovative ways that machine learning algorithms were making a big difference. We immediately saw how our work was converging, so we began discussing how we could work together. It didn’t take long to realize that the high-caliber team of leaders, experts, and researchers at Community Science would be a great group of people with whom to work and learn from as we move this big data and analytics work forward to improve entire systems.

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

Pete: I believe that the work that’s going to happen in the space of big data and predictive analytics is really starting to take off in child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, education, health, etc. There’s more administrative and other big datasets available than ever before, and the data science tools we now have allow us to develop case-specific predictive, prescriptive, and evaluative insights in real time. These big data science tools will be making a huge impact on all types of systems, and there is a critical need for considering how they should be used to foster social justice and address system inequities rather than perpetuate them. There’s a lot of appropriate fear about issues like algorithms that can be just as prejudiced as people. After all, data are always a reflection of those who document their decisions in datasets, including their biased ones. Community Science’s deep experience helping to build the capacity of systems to respond to injustice and inequity will be needed more than ever. While data science could perpetuate prejudicial decision-making, Community Science’s focus on rigorous research, building the capacity of system leaders and change agents, and creating the right checks and balances to the potential for injustice will help advance ways to keep these tools serving the purpose of equity for all communities.

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

Pete: I like the diversity of the work and the people in terms of where all staff and professionals come from and their experience base, in combination with the shared and lived organizational values and mission. Community Science walks the talk when it comes to inclusion, diversity, equity, and always striving for social justice. It’s great working with the sharpest minds who bring different levels of experience; there is a great mix of seasoned folks and those who bring more fresh perspectives and experiences to the work. More concretely, I would say in order to scale the kind of change we are talking about, we need those who really understand “community science”—that is, bringing together the need to understand the complexities of communities with valid data and rigorously acquired evidence in combination with the ability to build the capacity of people to put these insights into action. This is what Community Science—literally—is all about, and has been for 20 years. Now we get to see how adding the 21st century world of big data and data science can help everyone reach new heights.

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

Pete: I’ve spent the past 20 years in the evaluation space, working primarily with private and corporate foundations and nonprofit organizations. The biggest learning experience I’m having is getting to work with and understand the world of engaging with government agencies and how they work to achieve social impact, including the opportunities for scaling innovation. There’s so much work being done by government in the big data and analytics space, and more happening all the time. I am already learning so much from leaders here who bring so much experience working with government to advance and scale social impact.

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

Pete: I think that Community Science is going to take all of the lessons and successes it has achieved over the past 20 years and continue to innovate. The organization will be adding more big data science and technology to its excellent toolbox of research methods, practices, and approaches, and these tools and technologies will benefit from advances the organization is and will continue to make on changing systems and building the capacity of communities to adapt to new realities.

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

Pete: In terms of how I can contribute to the future, it is the space of what we can do together with big data, administrative data analytics, and machine learning to advance social impact, justice, and equity. We all share a long history of research, evaluation, and capacity building. Now, we will get to work collectively to bring all of this expertise together to create, innovate, and solve problems that have yet to be solved.

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