Policy research and advocacy groups increasingly recognize the value of authentic engagement and relationship building with the communities for which they advocate. This paper provides an example of a tool that facilitates engagement between a research organization and the communities that the research describes. The discussion below also explains how Connecticut Voices for Children used the engagement process and the lessons we learned from this experience.
In the past year, Voices expanded our community engagement work to include teachers, parents, and community organizations mobilizing to improve education in the state. We began this process with a series of interviews with 30 education advocates. Once we had identified the top issues from our interviews, we reviewed the scholarly literature and Connecticut-specific data about these issues.
To communicate our findings and solicit feedback, we used a tool called a "Data Walk." Data Walks are community-oriented events where data and research are presented accessibly to interested parties, followed by a discussion. After holding nine Data Walks, we evaluated their importance in our efforts to become an organization that reflects and includes the people whose lives and experiences we use in our work. To that end, this paper addresses two topics: first, the research on the value of community engagement in policy research and advocacy and second, a discussion of the Data Walk process and the related outcomes for Voices. We find that community engagement improves the rigor, relevance, and reach of our research.
This report and the 2017 round of Data Walks would not have been possible without the support of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, we are grateful for their continued support.