Bridging the Data Gap: Connecting Communities with the Tools They Need

by Catherine Patterson, Alison Rein, and Peter Eckart

Data are among the most powerful yet under-developed and under-appreciated resources in the toolbox for those committed to community health improvement. The process of collecting, analyzing, sharing, and then generating insights and acting upon data is one of the most challenging issues that communities working toward population health improvement face today. And, while there are a number of resources in the field of population health improvement that seek to support the expanded and improved use of data, operationalizing and obtaining the support required to perform these tasks remain a pressing need for many local collaborations.

As the field of data-driven community health improvement rapidly changes, the partners of All In: Data for Community Health have an opportunity to surface existing best practices and learn from what is – and what is not – working across the country. All In is a nationwide learning collaborative of over 50 community collaborations across the country, including groups from Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH), AcademyHealth’s Community Health Peer Learning Program (CHP), the BUILD Health Challenge, and the Colorado Health Foundation’s Connecting Communities and Care. The mission of All In is to help communities build capacity to address the social determinants of health through multi-sector collaboration and data sharing.

One of the most exciting things about watching this field grow is seeing communities make connections with and learn from each other. For example, at the recent Practical Playbook meeting, several All In communities shared their experiences utilizing data to drive health improvement. In a session on assessing community capacity for multi-sector data sharing, representatives of three communities within the All In network discussed the enablers and barriers experienced by community organizations as they move from collaborating, to sharing data, to acting on that data.

As a part of this presentation, All In’s “readiness assessment” was cited as a helpful tool in identifying gaps and understand existing capacity within their community partnership. In order to monitor progress in the field of multi-sector data sharing, evaluate progress of individual initiatives, and provide a tool that collaborations could use to self-assess their data sharing capacity and progress, the original members of All In collaborated to develop a tool based on the framework arising from an environmental scan and ongoing learnings across programs.  The initial readiness assessment survey was completed by representatives from each grantee project lead agency and their partner organization.

Dr. Rahel Berhane, medical director at the Dell Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic, noted that their team’s participation in All In’s readiness assessment process helped their collaboration to develop a shared understanding of existing capabilities and gaps in data infrastructure, and refocus attention on specific questions – such as implementation of shared governance and confirmation of key partners. Another panelist, Raed Mansour of the City of Chicago Department of Public Health, confirmed the utility of the readiness assessment, and specifically appreciated how the process helped his team of diverse partners to gauge confidence in the collaboration, to better appreciate organizational and individual skills, and to gain insight into future wants, needs, and opportunities.

That interactive session echoed our vibrant April 2016 National All In meeting. At this pioneering event in Denver, over 260 participants came together to discuss exciting community initiatives that are driving population health improvement through cross-sector data sharing and collaboration. Playbook and BUILD representatives attended, along with individuals and groups from a wide variety of sectors, including housing, law enforcement, health care, emergency responders, public health, community development and more. As the Practical Playbook continues to expand its audience, we are all better served by leveraging existing initiatives and being a bridge for communities who are looking for specific resources.

Fortunately, connections that were made in person at both the Playbook and All In meetings can now be continued online via the All In: Data for Community Health platform. Groups and individuals interested in connecting with other peers and projects can easily do so, and also take advantage of webinars, curated resources, and tools that directly address issues related to using data to drive health improvement.

We know that peer-to-peer sharing helps projects be more effective and efficient, but building this cooperation into our work is difficult; absent an in-person meeting, we must overcome inertia, role and function-based patterns, and our demanding schedules to seek out these connections. Playbook and All In are working to fill this gap by collaborating to provide communities and advocates with connections to the ideas, expertise, examples and inspiration they need to improve the lives and wellbeing of their communities.

Catherine Patterson is managing director for Urban Health and Policy at the de Beaumont Foundation; Alison Rein is senior director for Evidence Generation and Translation at AcademyHealth; and Peter Eckart is co-director of Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) at the Illinois Public Health Institute.

This post originally appeared on the Practical Playbook website.