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Shifting Power to Communities Through Data

Data plays a ubiquitous role in supporting the healthcare, community development, and public health sectors, alike. As these sectors work independently and collaboratively to shift power to communities, equitable and participatory data strategies and practices form an essential element of this work.

Across all data processes from data collection to analysis and the application of findings, there are numerous opportunities to systematically integrate community participation to ensure communities have the ability to effectively communicate their stories and advocate for their needs. Truly meaningful data equity moves beyond pursuing equitable data metrics and outcomes and additionally concerns strategies and processes for creating data of this quality that are led, at all stages, by communities.

What are the Building Blocks to Community-Led, Equitable Data Practices?

Equitable data centers community-participation across all stages of data processes (data processes are defined below). Equitable data supports in shifting power to communities by involving residents in decision making around who the data represents, who is engaged in data collection and analysis and how, who the results are accessible to, and what the data will be used for. As such, equitable data is a process, in addition to an outcome.

What are data processes?

Data Collection

Community-driven data collection methods are key to addressing the dearth of data that meaningfully represents historically disinvested communities and producing resources to promote equitable, healthy places.

How can data processes, and the indicators collected, be chosen and led by the community, as opposed to “on behalf” of the community?

Data Interpretation and Analysis

How can communities play a central role in making sense of data, and framing data findings within their unique lived experiences, needs, and historical contexts?

Communication of Findings

What would it look like for community leaders and organizations to lead and manage the application of equitable data to support communities in telling their stories?

Data Sovereignty

Data sovereignty exists when local communities have the ability to control the collection, ownership, and application of their own data.

What are the building blocks for creating environments that equip and allow communities to manage and own their data?

What are the Building Blocks to Community-Led, Equitable Data Practices?

The following building blocks detail the necessary components of data practices to support in moving the needle on shifting power to communities. These strategies must be applied across all data processes from data collection to interpretation and communication of findings to maximize the impact of community-driven, equitable data.

Enabling Community-Led Data Management and Ownership Across All Data Processes

What can it look like in practice for communities to have the ability to control the collection, ownership, and application of their own data?

Equipping Communities to Leverage Existing Assets

Creating environments that allow for community ownership of data requires capacity-building at the community-level to equip community leaders and organizations to own and lead data processes. Capacity-building is intended to support in leveraging and building on existing community assets, skill sets, and resident knowledge across data practices. Context-specific advocacy tools are also important to equip communities with concrete strategies and practices for using data to advance community goals.

Disaggregation of Quantitative Data

Disaggregation of data (such as by location (e.g. neighborhood; county; census tract) or subpopulation (e.g. race; age; gender; socio-economic status) is important for identifying and monitoring racial, health, and socioeconomic disparities. Mapping disaggregated data can be a powerful tool for concretely illustrating place-based inequities and building a case for programs and policies to meet community needs.

Implementing Community-Led Practices for Data Collection

Participatory Action Research (PAR) methods ensure that community knowledge and expertise are central to the data collection and analysis processes. This approach is grounded in the belief that the lived experiences of those most impacted by a problem make those individuals best situated to design qualitative or mixed-methods data collection strategies, as well as contextualize and make sense of the data findings. “Data for the head, stories for the heart…”

Power Mapping

Power mapping describes a strategy for analyzing who and what holds power, influence, and resources within a community. This work is important for identifying opportunities to redistribute power to enact equitable, community-driven data strategies.

Data Transparency

Data transparency is the process of making data available to community members by maximizing language justice and digital accessibility. Data transparency prioritizes effective communication with the community about how the data can be used and how privacy is maintained. Data transparency works to establish trust between the community and higher institutions, and intentionally works to avoid withholding or providing biased or misrepresented information to the community. “Communication is an essential ingredient for equity.

Access Resources to Support Your Efforts to Shift Power to Communities Through Data

Importantly, the building blocks referenced above are woven into these resources.

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Looking for existing data?

These data portals provide access to quality data to equip practitioners and community leaders to meaningfully engage in the building blocks for equitable data practices.

National Equity Atlas

With a focus on data for action, this data portal provides deeply disaggregated, longitudinal data on demographic change, racial and economic inclusion, and the economic benefits of equity for the largest 100 cities, largest 150 regions, all 50 states, and the United States. Developed through a partnership between PolicyLink and the Equity Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Southern California, this tool supports in democratizing equity data, advancing the conversation on equitable growth, and informing community action.

The Rural Data Portal

Developed by the Housing Assistance Council, the Rural Data Portal provides essential information on the social, economic, and housing characteristics of rural communities in the United States.

California Healthy Places Index (HPI)

This dynamic, interactive mapping tool is designed to support informed prioritization of public and private investments in communities across California by presenting data and policy recommendations on many social indicators that drive health.

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps for Action

This tool provides data to rank every U.S. county on factors that influence health, from air pollution to obesity and teen births. The rankings standardize and combine measures from several publicly available, national data sources.

Mapping Child Opportunity

The Child Opportunity Index captures many measures of neighborhood contributors to health, allowing users to visualize how neighborhoods in the 100 largest U.S. cities fare on creating opportunities for children to be healthy physically, socially, and developmentally.

City Health Dashboard

The City Health Dashboard is made up of 37 measures of health, the factors that shape health, and drivers of health equity to guide local solutions for 500 U.S. cities.

Project HOPE

HOPE data identifies where residents of individual states and the country are doing well and where states can do more to help residents be healthier. In doing so, HOPE calculates three important factors that help state and federal leaders, advocates, and other stakeholders shape policies and practices: 1) where the gaps in opportunity are among people of different races and ethnicities; 2) what goals for achieving equity look like; and 3) how far they need to move the dial to make these goals a reality.

Health Impact Assessments

Health Impact Assessments (HIA) are a structured, yet flexible practice used to assess potential health impacts of a policy or program on a population. Recommendations from the assessment can guide policy- and decision-makers to maximize the health benefits of a given project. This site, hosted by the Institute for People, Place, and Possibility (IP3) and powered by Community Commons, houses hundreds of resources related to HIAs to help users implement this approach and consider health, well-being, and equity in all policies and investments.

Interested in strategies and tools for producing community-led, equitable data?

These resources offer insight in the form of guides and toolkits to support data creation methods that are equitable and community-driven.

Intro to Research Justice Toolkit

This toolkit, developed by Power Shift Network, encourages marginalized communities to recognize their own expertise and to develop their own analysis of the issues that impact them.

Greater Boston Anti-Displacement Toolkit

This multimedia organizing toolkit is a collection of activities, how-to guides, facilitation plans, and resources that organizers and residents can use to fight displacement in their communities. Produced through the Healthy Neighborhoods Study (HNS), this toolkit stands as a model for how data practices can build capacity among community members to address the problems they have identified.

Promising Practices: A Companion Guide for Principles to Advance Equity through Shared Measurement

Part of a larger body of work on principles for shared measurement by the American Institutes for Research, this guide provides reflection questions and promising practices for centering community partnership and equity through data and measurement as part of cross-sector collaborations.

Centering Community: Policy Process Evaluation for Equity

ChangeLabSolutions offers practices and metrics for assessing community participation in programs and policies related to tobacco prevention; their strategies for centering data transparency and community engagement can be applied across sectors and partnerships.

Data Feminism

Data Feminism offers strategies for data scientists seeking to learn how feminism can help them work toward justice, and for feminists who want to focus their efforts on the growing field of data science. But Data Feminism is about much more than gender. It is about power, about who has it and who doesn’t, and about how those differentials of power can be challenged and changed.

The Magnolia Community Initiative: The Importance of Measurement in Improving Community Well-Being

How can measurement strengthen community leadership and partnerships to optimize population well-being? How can integration and management of data collection and analysis work in practice? This case study of the Magnolia Community Initiative describes such a measurement system and offers itself as an example to illustrate principles for equitable measurement.

Community-Based Participatory Research

The Detroit Urban Research Center offers capacity building materials to learn about and implement Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methods across sectors.

Photovoice and empowerment: evaluating the transformative potential of a participatory action research project

This publication describes the empowering impact that photovoice can have on community members. Photovoice is a visual research method that allows communities to tell their own stories through ethical photography. Photovoice can be particularly valuable among populations or indicators that may be challenging to assess through traditional data collection methods.


This website showcases numerous opportunities for implementing this technique to center community through data collection.

Success Measures Creative Community Development Evaluation Tools

This publication contains 15 data collection tools created by Success Measures, an evaluation resource group at NeighborWorks America, to facilitate the collection of primary data. This toolkit contributes to the ongoing efforts among community development and arts and culture practitioners to create ways to understand and communicate the outcomes of creative community development work.

ACHI Increase Health Equity through Data

Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA) systematically integrate comprehensive data that reflect and describe the characteristics, experiences, priorities, and culture of the community. This toolkit from the ACHI (AHA Community Health Improvement) offers strategies and best practices for maximizing effective community engagement throughout a CHNA.

Activities to Deepen Your Power-Building Analysis

This suite of resources and activities produced by Human Impact Partners is designed for governmental health departments and agencies to dive into power: what it is, who holds it, and how to leverage and redistribute it to create more equitable and healthy communities.

Native Data Sovereignty

This resource delineates a path towards indigenous data sovereignty through data accessibility, native-based research, and knowledge translation. When communities have full access to their own data, they are better equipped to use this data to support self-determination.

Toolkit for Resident Centered Outcomes Measurement in Affordable Rental Housing

This toolkit, produced by Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF), is grounded in the idea that data collection and analysis is strengthened when layered with equitable, resident-centered processes. Focusing on affordable housing, these strategies can be applied across sectors to integrate community engagement into data analysis practices.

Community Investment HealthScore

This tool, developed through the Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund by the Conservation Law Foundation offers step-by-step support for using community-defined metrics to evaluate an investment’s impact on a community.

Designing and Facilitating Collaborative Research Design and Data Analysis Workshops: Lessons Learned in the Healthy Neighborhoods Study

This article describes how a consortium of community residents, grassroots community organizations, and academic and public institutions implemented collaborative research design and data analysis processes as part of a participatory action research (PAR) study investigating the relationship between neighborhoods and health in the greater Boston area.

An Introduction to Data Equity

This post from Community Commons dives into several key dimensions of data equity including community ownership of data, power-sharing practices, legacies of data discrimination, weaving data and storytelling, and more.

Changing Power Dynamics among Researchers, Local Governments, and Community Members

This toolkit, developed by the Urban Institute, highlights community-based and racially equitable approaches that shift power dynamics to catalyze community-engaged research, public policy, programs, and investments.

A Participatory Action Research Field Guide from the Healthy Neighborhoods Study

Published by Conservation Law Foundation in partnership with the Healthy Neighborhoods Study research team, this guide describes how residents, community partners, and researchers engage in participatory action research (PAR) to collect and analyze data on the relationship and impacts of neighborhood change on health and wellbeing in nine Eastern Massachusetts communities.

King County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA)

This website archives CHNAs conducted by Seattle and King County, Washington, the reports of which detail their methods for determining community-identified priorities.

Interested in strategies and tools to guide community-driven program monitoring and evaluation?

The guides, case studies, and toolkits within this section offer concrete strategies for program monitoring and evaluation practices to meaningfully center equitable, community-driven processes.

The Do No Harm Project

This body of work by the Urban Institute consists of several guides for researchers and analysts to center equity in data collection approaches to encourage thoughtfulness in how data is managed and presented.

Advocacy and Policy Change with Data

The Elevate Data for Equity project produced by the Urban Institute offers tools and applied insight for community-based advocacy to invest in data capacity and make data collection practices more equitable.

Centering Community: Policy Process Evaluation for Equity

ChangeLabSolutions offers practices and metrics for assessing community participation in programs and policies related to tobacco prevention; their strategies for centering meaningful community engagement can be applied across sectors and partnerships.

Housing and Health for All: A Research and Communications Toolkit for COVID-19 and Beyond

This plain-language communications toolkits produced by Human Impact Partners offers talking points and strategies for resident-led, data-driven advocacy related to housing.

Guide to Data Chats: Convening Community Conversations about Data

Data Chats are small community conversations about data designed to integrate residents’ perspectives, interpretations, and experiences in the data analysis. Produced by the Urban Institute, this guide provides practical advice and sample materials to support groups interested in this participatory method.

Centering Racial Equity in Measurement and Evaluation

This brief explores how racial equity and inclusion (REI) can strengthen nonprofits’ measurement and evaluation work and how measurement and evaluation helps nonprofits identify inequities and use data to improve the operationalization of REI practices.

Measure Up: Principles for Measuring Rural and Native Nation Development Progress

Produced by the Aspen Institute, this Call to Action highlights six principles for measuring rural development progress that encourage the design of programs that consider lower-capacity communities’ realities, needs, and goals.

Steps for Engaging Patients and Community Members in Data-Driven Quality Improvement

Prepared by Ellen Schultz Consulting, this resource provides guidance for engaging people with lived experience throughout 4 key stages of data work, and includes examples and conversation starters to help readers put these tips into practice.

Data Walks: An Innovative Way to Share Data with Communities

Data Walks are an approach developed by the Urban Institute HOST team to ensure more robust community understanding of data, to better inform programming and policies to address both the strengths and the needs of a particular community, and to inspire individual and collective action among stakeholders.

Community Participation in Health Impact Assessments: A National Evaluation

A two-year study conducted by Human Impact Partners (HIP) examined and clarified how community participation in Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) augments the success of HIAs and improves civic agency in communities.

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Thank you to Build Healthy Places Network’s former Public Health Intern, Hannah Ruben, for leading the research and development of this project.