Since COVID-19 hit the U.S., we’ve seen record numbers of people seeking social services. Thirty-eight states don’t have enough social workers to meet the demand requirements of the people they serve. Community need is outpacing capacity to deliver services. And people of color are disproportionately impacted.
We recently brought three social good organizations serving the Los Angeles community—A Place Called Home, Da Vinci RISE High School and Fulfillment Fund—and special guest, Steve Ballmer, co-founder of Ballmer Group Philanthropy, together to discuss the importance of collecting equitable data-driven insights and working together to respond to community needs and transform lives. This conversation revealed five tangible practices that social good organizations and funders can implement now to collect equitable data and elevate community collaboration.
By listening to what the people you serve are telling you through the surveys they complete and the conversations they engage in, you can quickly pivot programs to address changing needs.
Soon after COVID-19 shut down Los Angeles, A Place Called Home (APCH) surveyed the families they serve and implemented new programs, including a Family Resource Depot to receive and distribute groceries and household necessities, and a direct delivery program that included books and art supplies in the grocery bags. They also launched a new APCH Programs Hub to provide their members with daily access to academic tutoring, mental health counseling, the arts, athletics, and pathways to college and good jobs.
To implement equitable, community-driven data and ethical evaluation practices, it helps to take a step back, think outside the box, and identify and question assumptions. Make sure you are asking the right questions in a way that is inclusive and relevant to your program participants.
Fulfillment Fund found that gender questions on their surveys were not being answered and decided to include the nonbinary category, which resulted in far higher response rates to the questions with 10 percent of responders checking the nonbinary box. Additional conversations with alumni revealed that categorizing people as “first generation” or “low income” can be disempowering and changed the way the organization approaches data collection.
“There’s no right answer to the wrong question.”Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home
By giving program participants access to their information and ownership of their progress, you promote self-agency and self-advocacy while fostering goal setting and family engagement.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) exams given during intake at Da Vinci RISE High School give students new language and perspectives that help them to set boundaries and ask for what they need. Students are empowered to lead their own Individualized Education Program meetings and own their data, which contributes to a safe environment for sharing, normalizes trauma and minimizes triggers.
Our panelists and Ballmer agree that lasting operational infrastructures that support information technology are game changing in the social sector, particularly when it comes to community impact. No one organization can solve community programs—we all need to work together. To partner at the community level, organizations need to have the technology to be able to contribute and keep up.
To make this a reality, social good organizations and funders must both prioritize information technology. Social good organizations need to build the cost for technology into their budget structures, and funders need to invest in technology and staff in addition to programs.
Rather than focusing on outputs like how many people are served, focus efforts on outcomes such as clear paths to upward mobility. Digital connection doesn’t substitute for human connection, but if you have a digital connection with program participants it is easier for them to express how they feel—and that results in being able to collect outcomes data.
Donors see the value in using data and the advanced analytics that are now available to ask what can be done better to help program participants and improve program efficacy.
And social good organizations can push back on donors. Share why the data you collect is important for measuring outcomes and for making grant reporting more integrated, which results in less time spent repackaging information and more time spent transforming lives.
“The truth of the matter is that having access to technology can improve outcomes, whether you’re trying to make a profit or help change families’ lives.”Steve Ballmer, Ballmer Group
You can watch the full panel discussion, Data Equity: Leveling the Playing Field through Community Collaboration, here.
For more information on our participant’s organizations, visit:
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