Sharing and integrating administrative data across human services agencies enables the transformation of client-level information into actionable intelligence that can inform community needs, improve services, and develop innovative policies. Yet, administrative data can also be used to reinforce legacies of racist policies and produce inequitable resource allocation, access, and outcomes at the macro level.
This study analyzed results of a 2019-2020 workgroup of civic data stakeholders to co-create best practices for centering racial equity when integrating administrative data. The workgroup sought to answer three key questions in regards to human services data integration: What are the consequences of excluding community voices during this process? What approaches are most effective for engaging community stakeholders? How can integrated data support community organizing, policies that promote equity, and government accountability to communities? This paper addresses these questions with findings from the workgroup while also analyzing the collaborative workgroup and public deliberation process as knowledge a generation method.
A qualitative, collective case study approach allowed for in-depth analysis of both the collaborative workgroup process and the tangible knowledge produced from this interdisciplinary group. Purposive sampling was used to curate a 15-person workgroup, representing diverse perspectives across race, gender, geography, lived experience, and profession. Community organizers, researchers, and human services administrators at the national, state, and local level were intentionally brought together over two in-person convenings, multiple subgroup meetings, regular email engagement and virtual conferencing, and collaborative document development to answer the stated research questions and to co-create a toolkit for centering racial equity in human services data use and integration.
Content generated from the workgroup process was documented and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Additional qualitative data was collected via interview, email exchange, and website content review from human services agencies exemplifying “work in action” towards racial equity. The final toolkit employed public deliberation methods to synthesize these data into a series of drafts that were reviewed by the original workgroup and additional experts, all of whom were compensated for their time and expertise. Iterative member checking served to improve validity and create a final product that represented and balanced disparate viewpoints from this emerging field.
The workgroup developed positive and problematic practices for centering racial equity across the data life cycle (i.e., data planning, collection, access, use of algorithms and statistics, analysis, and reporting and dissemination). Numerous “work in action” examples, such as Broward County, Florida’s participatory action research process in juvenile justice and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania’s initiative to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data in child welfare, demonstrated accessible strategies for agencies to center equity when working with administrative data for evaluation, research, and outcome measurement.
Conclusions and Implications:
The collaborative workgroup produced a toolkit that community-based and government agencies, researchers, and social work policymakers can use today to center racial equity in data use and integration. The process itself demonstrates a clear method for curating an expert workgroup of diverse civic stakeholders, with diverging perspectives, and producing an actionable product for the field.