Quantifying the Unquantifiable: Equity-Centered Community Engagement

When we talk about equity-centered community engagement (ECCE), we are talking about a dynamic digital approach to flexible and sustainable community engagement. The lived experiences of families and community members are enormously important; they drive service providers to adapt, expand and invest in communities. Surveys are one of the best tools for providers to reach these communities! This tool fosters a large, transparent community, and ensures that services center solutions for the intended recipients. 

Surveys are inexpensive and inclusive. They can convert real human thoughts and feelings into measurable data. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, in-person approaches to getting insights from communities – such as focus groups and listening sessions – have been more challenging. Surveys can provide a window into a community’s needs to ensure families’ perspectives are centered without overburdening them and while maximizing the impact of decisions.

Many of VIVA’s clients are using surveys to better understand how they can best adapt their offerings to support stakeholders across communities. Early in the pandemic, we worked with one of our clients to conduct surveys that captured urgent needs of parent and child care providers (including attainment of PPE, financial support, and emotional support). We used that data to distill how our client would best support their community. Their teams used these findings to allocate a large government grant to support COVID-related needs (read more about that project here). 

Expanding on that success, VIVA developed and implemented ECCE for First 5 San Francisco (F5SF) and the San Francisco Office of Early Care and Education (OECE) as part of a joint early childhood planning process aiming at understanding experiences of families with young children and unravel racist practices that have perpetuated a significant opportunity gap.

In direct partnership with families, Your Child, Your Voice was launched in English, Spanish, and Chinese in January 2021. VIVA recruited people who lived in specific zip codes of different racial backgrounds to join this panel, elevating their voices. By providing the opportunity to give feedback and share their experiences, San Francisco parents were able to pull up a seat at the table. 

Within only 1 month, over 1,600 parents of young children signed up to join Your Child, Your Voice for ongoing engagement. The number of registrants was more than 3 times the initial goal and demonstrated that the parents of the youngest San Franciscans were eager to get involved and share their perspectives. These parents and caregivers, with boots on the ground, are the most informed about how they experience the programs that have been designed to support them. That is a powerful tool to evaluate program success! Through targeting, we were able to build a beautifully diverse panel, reaching people of different zip codes, racial identities, languages, and immigration statuses.

Through digital engagement (read: texts and emails) during the spring, we were able to conduct surveys that shed important light on the resources available to families. For example, we had 618 parents that provided detailed feedback about the successes and challenges of navigating aspects of the early childhood system, such as special needs programs. On top of that, nearly all of these parents also provided detailed information on kindergarten readiness indicators, such as reading to their children. This panel provides us with a list of people who are ready to talk about their experiences. That feedback creates trust between parents and providers and helps outline a path forward. 

Equity-centered community engagement opens an efficient, effective throughline between parents and organizations. It creates a culture of community-centered decision-making that advances equity by honoring the perspectives and experiences of parents and other grassroots stakeholders. It also mitigates systemic bias; there is no need to make assumptions when you can just ask! 

Once you have built a panel, no opportunity to ask for input is too small! You can ask for responses to emerging priorities, providing opportunities for real-time data collection, testing ideas, and tracking needs over time. Surveys are a great way to get your information straight from the source. Create surveys that gather transformative insights and empower the respondents. 

Equity-centered community engagement may sound fancy, but all it really means is asking for feedback from the people who are best positioned to provide it.  After all, information is power! 

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