Tool Kit Puts Racial Equity at the Center of Data Integration

Posted June 18, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people

Social ser­vice agen­cies and schools need well-designed data inte­gra­tion — the link­ing of per­son­al records across pub­lic agen­cies — to improve coor­di­na­tion and make bet­ter deci­sions for indi­vid­ual kids and fam­i­lies. But with­out incor­po­rat­ing mech­a­nisms to advance racial equi­ty, these infra­struc­tures can rein­force his­tor­i­cal and sys­temic inequities for peo­ple of col­or, harm­ing the com­mu­ni­ties they are meant to help.

A new tool kit from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pennsylvania’s Action­able Intel­li­gence for Social Pol­i­cy (AISP) offers a blue­print for inte­grat­ing data with an inten­tion­al focus on racial equi­ty. The end goal? Eth­i­cal data use that empow­ers agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers at the same time.

With sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and oth­er fun­ders, the tool kit was devel­oped over the past year by a nation­al work­group of com­mu­ni­ty advo­cates, agency and non­prof­it staff, researchers, fun­ders, ser­vice providers and gov­ern­ment administrators.

Why now? In recent years, the dri­ve to devel­op bet­ter data — and more robust data sys­tems — has increas­ing­ly cap­tured the atten­tion of researchers and oth­er sys­tems experts look­ing to max­i­mize results for kids and fam­i­lies. But as a result of the struc­tur­al racism baked into laws and poli­cies, peo­ple of col­or have been over­rep­re­sent­ed in agency data sys­tems for gen­er­a­tions and under­rep­re­sent­ed among those who make deci­sions about how to use the data. The nar­ra­tives that emerge from these dis­par­i­ties sup­port inequitable resource allo­ca­tion, access to ser­vices and out­comes. Yet the issue of bias in data has gone large­ly unchecked.

Agen­cies build this data infra­struc­ture for the pub­lic good, as a pub­lic trust. They need, then, to include the pub­lic in the process — and espe­cial­ly the young peo­ple and par­ents whose infor­ma­tion is being shared in these sys­tems,” says Christo­pher Kings­ley, a Casey senior asso­ciate who man­ages data invest­ments and par­tic­i­pat­ed in the AISP work­group. If the process isn’t equi­table, chances are the results won’t be either.”

The tool kit pro­vides resources and guide­lines for embed­ding racial equi­ty prin­ci­ples through­out the com­plete data life cycle, including:

  1. Plan­ning — the work of prepar­ing for all future stages;
  2. Data col­lec­tion — the process of gath­er­ing par­tic­i­pant infor­ma­tion to admin­is­ter or eval­u­ate services;
  3. Data access — prac­tices relat­ed to obtain­ing, view­ing and using data;
  4. Algo­rithms and sta­tis­ti­cal tools — the devel­op­ment and use of algo­rithms and sta­tis­ti­cal log­ic to auto­mate decision-making;
  5. Data analy­sis — the explo­ration of data to devel­op find­ings, inter­pre­ta­tions and con­clu­sions; and
  6. Report­ing and dis­sem­i­na­tion — the inter­nal and exter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion of data findings.

For each phase, exam­ples from agen­cies and providers from across the coun­try offer a win­dow into equi­ty work in action in the real world.

By putting racial equi­ty at the cen­ter of data inte­gra­tion efforts, agen­cies not only cre­ate sys­tems that more accu­rate­ly iden­ti­fy needs and enhance their abil­i­ty to serve fam­i­lies — but they also con­tribute to reshap­ing per­cep­tions of com­mu­ni­ties mar­gin­al­ized by inequitable poli­cies, while build­ing trust with those they serve.

Learn how Broward Coun­ty, Flori­da, incor­po­rat­ed racial equi­ty in data-sharing

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