Data Equity

by Liz Tharp, Impact & Learning Officer

Data is everywhere. Communities and organizations use data to highlight needs, to design programs and services, to learn and measure change. If equity is not considered, data can help promote the very injustices, biases and inequitable conditions that communities work hard to improve. 

Understanding what ‘data’ is and the risks associated helps us better steward data resources to promote equity in communities.

Data takes many forms beyond numbers. The Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI) is a national movement that influences funders to balance their desire to use numbers with an understanding of context and the nuances of culture. EEI realizes that numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Beyond numeric data – pictures, videos and stories are types of data that are valuable and necessary to more clearly understand the people and conditions of our region.

Unless we’re intentionally thinking about ‘equity,’ data can reinforce the very conditions communities work to improve.  Data from our last Health Survey highlights this point. We learned that 1 in 4 (24%) adults in Vanderburgh County have problems accessing fresh produce. Good data but focusing on this point alone would cause us to overlook an area of inequity. A closer look shows that half (48%) of all residents living in the 47713-zip code, have problems accessing fresh produce. Conversations with organizations and collaborations serving residents in this zip code back up the story this data is telling. If communities are not considering issues of equity with their data, they can risk designing solutions that leave out important geographies and populations.

24% of Vanderburgh County48% of 47713 zip code
Low access to fresh fruits and vegetables 2015 Tri-State Health Survey, WBF

Being good stewards of data means intentionally thinking about equity in all aspects of data usage.  WBF incorporates equity thinking into each of the four large-scale, multi-county surveys we commission. Breaking down data by variables like race, ethnicity, zip code, income level, etc. is called ‘data disaggregation’ and this step helps us look for stories of inequity buried in the data. WBF has also built a relationship-based evaluation system that requires periodic in-person interactions with grantees. The EEI says that the best approaches to evaluation with grantees, “would be jointly designed by the foundation and the people it supports, and it would take into consideration the feelings, stories, and concerns of those people, not just an outcome that can be measured numerically.” Data collection plans for grantees in each grant cycle are made jointly, reports are given face-to-face and a variety of data forms are accepted as reports.

This matters because…

Just as we aim to steward dollars, time, knowledge and expertise for maximum impact, we need to use data responsibly and to ensure that the data we use tells an accurate story about ALL the populations and conditions represented. More equitable data helps support more equitable strategies and decisions.