By Meme Styles, President and Founder of Measure
We know our truth. Our stories and our experiences are data. They’re the most rich and important form of data and they should be heard. What called me to this work was the need for concrete data and concrete numbers to affirm the experience of Black people and communities in Austin and throughout the country. That’s why I created Measure, a non-profit designed to empower people impacted by disparities to increase our knowledge about the causes of social injustice and give us the tools we need to create equitable change.
We experience the impacts of oppression every day. And it’s sad to say that we need numbers to validate our experience, but we are still at the point where people need data to believe. When you’re going up against systems of oppression, you have to use a systemic language. We need better tools to use data as a common language to advocate more effectively. And we simply didn’t have access to the data to do that, and especially not the kind of data that speaks to our truths. I realized this when I joined a panel with the Austin Police Department and called on them to show us the numbers. There was a disconnect between the big data the department was reporting and what the community was experiencing.
Our solution was to create Measure – to hold space for community members to be a part of the process of data gathering on what we believe is important. We want to ensure that Black- and Brown-led organizations have the data they need to support and advance their work. Before Measure, data was something that was coveted, separate, and only available to those with privilege and means. What we’re saying as a community is that data is a utility just like water. It should be accessible to everyone. We wanted to explore what it would look like to share that data openly and use it as a mechanism for change.
Creating the CARE Model for Community-Led, Data-Driven Change
I remember the day I jotted down the idea that we need data with CARE – Community, Advocacy, Resilience, and Evidence. I still have the notebook! But we first needed to vet a comprehensive approach to data for social change. We started by bringing this idea to more than 400 community members to provide input on a model for working with communities to develop solutions to complex social problems in an equitable way that was responsive to communities’ needs and voices. In collaboration with Black women like Dr. Shadeequa (Dee) Miller and our chief of research, Paulette Blanc, we condensed what we heard into a blueprint that we now call the Measure CARE Model. The model builds on the following pillars:
Community: Involve community from the beginning and throughout the process
Advocacy: Advocate with community to address disparities
Resilience: Generate solutions that strengthen community resilience
Evidence: Use data and evidence for data-informed decisions
Organizations can now collaborate with Measure facilitators and data activists to refine, plan, and develop anti-racist data that mobilizes community-led solutions for social justice issues. We shared our working model with St. David’s Foundation and asked them to bet on Measure – to help us advance our work. Until then, I had been building Measure in the hours outside my job working for the state of Texas. With support from the Foundation, I was able to leave my cubicle and focus full-time on building Measure. I was able to bring on women who I had been long collaborating with like Precious Azurée, an entrepreneur who wanted to use her skills of developing personal and corporate brands to take Black Lives Matter far beyond a hashtag. Now, with the support of an incredible team and our collaborators across the community, roughly 12 organizations are CARE Model-certified. And we have provided over 3,245 free data support hours to Black- and Brown-led organizations.
Tenets of Anti-Racist Data and Evaluation
Data is in our DNA as people of color. We are storytellers, and stories are data.
We passed our stories from one person to another because historically, we weren’t allowed to document our experience. The idea of data collection has always been inherent in us as a people in order to survive and thrive. Because so much has been taken away through colonization, our idea with Measure was to restore the power of data and access bringing the people most impacted by inequity to the front of research and evaluation to mobilize communities and create change. When I think about the depth of who we are as Black women data activists – it’s a part of our “why.” We are not hidden. We will make sure our voices are lifted up along the way.
This way of operating that democratizes data and returns us to our roots is how we practice the use of anti-racist data and evaluation. To us, this means:
- Advancing fair representation in evaluation and research. BIPOC researchers are a very small percentage of the field. In partnership with Capacity Catalyst and Huston-Tillotson University, we created the community-engaged research course to address this and grow the pipeline of BIPOC data scientists and advocates.
- Creating space for Black women and BIPOC people to build wealth. Through the work of Measure, we are reinvesting in our community by training residents to become data activists and facilitators of our tools.
- Countering algorithmic racism. Data traditionally can be taken from people and sold. It’s used in harmful ways and put into algorithms that operate in the shadows. We don’t do that. The technology solution we’re creating is a force for transparency, ensuring that people own and control their own data.
- Decolonizing research and evaluation. Traditional research has harmed our community in so many ways. We are reclaiming the use of data and evaluation to be used to create a utopia. Our vision is for Powerful Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities to access information that will support them to self-advocate toward an antiracist and equitable future. We do our work through deep relationships, through trust and in community with the people most affected at every step of the research.
Measure in Action
The tenets of anti-racist data can be found across our work, but we find it comes to life in the specifics of what we do with our partners in communities. Explore a few examples below or browse through our Data Gallery for more.
- Black maternal health: In response to data showing that nearly 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas could have been prevented, MEASURE and the Maternal Health Equity Collaborative developed a survey to better understand the unique needs and lived experiences of BIPOC pregnant people in Central Texas. The report included a timeline of historical racism on maternal care, as well as a look at pregnant people’s experience of overt racism, isolation, lack of support in the healthcare system. For example, 30% of respondents said their pain was discounted or downplayed by their healthcare providers. The resulting report was used to both secure major funding for the organization and as a tool by community members to advocate for better birthing outcomes for Black and Brown women.
- We Can Now partnered with MEASURE to create community-centered solutions and leverage data to measure their food distribution efforts and improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing homelessness in Travis County. As a result of the CARE Model, the organization has reported earning $500,000 in capacity building funding.
- The Black Leaders Collective used Measure’s Community-Led Survey to evaluate the needs of Black-led nonprofits in Austin and, as a result, the Austin Community Foundation has launched a $1.5M fund called The Black Fund.
We firmly believe that with one spark we can ignite an incredible fire of social justice, and every sector and leader can do their part. This is our advocacy and our ministry. It’s time to seek out Black- and Brown-led organizations doing impactful work and empower them to bring the tools of data and evaluation to bear for social justice. It’s time to undo traditional notions of locking data up behind doors, and democratize the creation and use of data so it becomes a tool for all of us to create a more just future.