Data is a foundational lever for equity and is a critical element that supports all the other levers in this framework. The use of data, especially community-level aggregated information, is a typical part of United Way’s overall approach to developing impact goals, strategies, and programs to improve outcomes in education, economic mobility, and health. Our United Way’s Impact Approach starts with looking at community-level data to understand: the prevalence and scope of an issue, who in the community is most impacted, and the aspects of the issue most important to potential donors. Most United Ways are experienced at leveraging existing data. Some have successfully created data-sharing agreements with key community partners and local institutions to facilitate access to data that is not publicly available. United Way’s community engagement efforts have also led to a widely shared understanding that “data” also includes the perspectives of community residents, donors, and board members.
Examining data with an intentional focus on equity further increases the diversity of perspectives and can dramatically alter the way United Ways and their community partners frame issues and design solutions. Although data on disparities, needs, and existing assets is used regularly by many United Ways to understand the issue and to develop impact strategies, using this lever to advance equity requires pushing further in our data practices.
It is important to note that data is often assumed to be objective and therefore free of bias. In the context of equity, it is essential to acknowledge that objectivity is impossible. The methodologies and collection methods we employ, the individuals or systems analyzing the data, and the way we communicate data, are all influenced by the broader societal conditions and conventions in which these activities are happening. Thus, the data is ultimately subject to bias. Indeed, what is considered valid data versus anecdotal evidence is steeped in historical and modern concepts that are often limiting.
- Increasing the use of disaggregated data whenever possible.
- Building the capacity of United Way funded programs and agencies to collect, report, and use disaggregated data.
- Using data to understand and effectively communicate about current and past structural and institutional patterns of discrimination and inequality, to build greater awareness and make the case for equity.
- Using data to identify root causes of issues and to create equity-specific impact goals and strategies.
- Using data to effectively frame issues and personal narratives within a broader community context.
- Identifying gaps and addressing inequities in United Way’s resource allocation and grantmaking processes.
- Using data to inform policy and advocacy strategies, and to address inequities in state and local policies (e.g. prison sentencing guidelines).
- Ensuring more equitable access to data for all community members.