For organizations focused on health and health equity, connecting the dots between the data you have—or the data you want—and the questions you need to answer for your organization, partners, funders, and communities served can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to, explain Lisa Angus and Lizzie Fussell of the Providence Center for Outcomes, Research and Evaluation (CORE).
Lisa and Lizzie bring that lens to CORE’s work with Medicaid programs, community nonprofits, and others. Through those partnerships, they’ve gained a unique perspective on how to make data and analytics more useful for anyone working to advance real-world change.
We spoke with Lisa and Lizzie to learn more about their current work and thinking.
What common data and analytics-related challenges do you see community-based organizations and others grappling with?
“Probably the issue that we come across most often—including for ourselves—is a mismatch between the data that are available and the questions that need answering,” explains Lisa.
Is it a data scarcity issue? Or is it more about how to use the data?
“Too little data is rarely the issue,” says Lizzie. In fact, organizations might be “swimming in data but struggling to translate it effectively and consistently into action. For some, it can be tough to know where to start!”
For example, you might collect certain data because of a funder requirement or as part of client-facing work. You might also use Medicaid claims, census, voting, or other data. With all of these different sources to consider, Lisa explains that the key is to “determine how that data can be used for action, learning, or decision making, while also considering the biases and limitations of your sources.”
You mentioned the potential for bias in data. Why is that important?
“It’s essential to acknowledge that data can perpetuate harmful power dynamics, bias, and decision making,” emphasizes Lizzie.
“As well as to consider who produced that data, who controls it, and whose perspectives are represented or silenced,” says Lisa.
As an example, they pointed to census data. It's a widely used data source that's highly accessible and valuable for all sorts of organizations. Yet, as Lizzie explains, these data have been "misused and sometimes weaponized, leading to deep distrust among some communities." This means that these same communities are underrepresented in the census, "so we have to really consider the context of how we plan to use the data, its limitations, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks."
“These are also some of the reasons we're excited to continue investing into CORE’s learning around data justice principles,” adds Lisa.
You’ve described data capacity building as major focus area for CORE. Can you expand on that?
“In the past, CORE did a lot of work on the calculation and communication of health care quality metrics–the whole production cycle from taking in claims and eligibility files, writing code to produce standardized quality measures, designing dashboards, and refreshing all of that each month,” explains Lisa. “We’ve also had the opportunity to assist several of our partners to bring that work in-house. These days, we’re focusing less on production cycles and more on providing custom support to design, build, and test new measures or measure alternatives, and helping groups think about how metrics fit into their broader data strategy.”
For example, CORE works with Better Health Together (BHT), the Accountable Community of Health for Northeastern Washington, to provide data support to its partners and county-based collaboratives. CORE provides options for outcome measures on projects designed to increase collaboration between healthcare and community services and helps BHT monitor and interpret the region’s performance on Medicaid quality measures. In Oregon, CORE is supporting Health Share, a Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) that serves Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) members, to build out additional measures and dashboards in their business intelligence and reporting systems.
“It’s really rewarding to work and learn alongside our partners as they develop their data strategy and take ownership of it,” adds Lizzie “That’s why we’re so excited about CORE’s Data for Change program, which brings together a cohort of Oregon nonprofits as part of a collaborative effort to increase their capacity for using data. This will be the program’s second year and we’re thrilled to be able to partner again with the Providence Community Health Investment and some of their fantastic grantees.”
If you could offer organizations one piece of advice around data, what would it be?
“I would reiterate that data doesn’t have to be scary or even necessarily complex or expensive,” says Lizzie.
“Take the time to get really clear about the questions you are trying to answer, as well as the audiences and uses for your data,” adds Lisa.
To learn more about CORE’s analytics and strategic consulting work, get in touch!