Published April 27, 2021
At the beginning of the year, our President and CEO Edward Burger reflected on the profound impact 2020 had on our community. He challenged us with this question: What have we learned from the past year and how will those lessons move our work forward to advance health equity throughout Central Texas?
This question gave us all the license to pause and take a moment to reflect, learn and refocus on the impact and action we hope to inspire for the year ahead.
In my 15 years with the Foundation, I’ve had a front-row seat to our approach to data – and more importantly, how the Foundation and our partners use it as the vital role of data continuously evolves. From measuring outputs to measuring outcomes, from defining data as numbers to adding voices to those numbers, and moving from a monitoring mindset to a learning-focused mindset. And although we’ve been collecting data for years – both quantitative and qualitative, formally and informally – 2020 taught us that we can apply that data more effectively to drive a better and more equitable tomorrow.
The speed at which COVID-19 impacted our community required nimbleness and flexibility like we’d never seen before, to aid our neighbors in a time of need and the organizations who support them. It drove innovation in our decision-making and illuminated how we can all better use data and insights to identify gaps and new areas of opportunity. Data became our metaphorical flashlight to reveal issues core to our community and inspire decision-making reflective of those needs. Without question, the pandemic has accelerated our use of data to expose racial disparities and inequities that we must examine and act upon.
Philanthropy has a unique opportunity to experiment, collaborate, and adapt approaches to remove the barriers preventing people from reaching their full potential. However, this opportunity also carries an obligation to share what we’ve learned and invite our community to engage in this process of intellectual growth and understanding. Looking ahead, we are thoughtfully focusing on how we can be better partner with the community to accelerate our shared learning and drive action across our five-county region.
To become transparent, effective partners, we created a team at the Foundation specifically focused on Evaluation and Strategic Learning, and launched a new Research & Insights page on our website to house evaluation supported, created or advised by the Foundation. As the new Vice President of Evaluation and Strategic Learning, I have the privilege of leading a team of brilliant and passionate professionals who are committed to learning and engaging in research with the community to challenge our ways of thinking. Our goal is to ensure that data, research, and learning drive the evolution of our strategy, support sound funding decisions, and inspire action to advance health equity in Central Texas. And while we’ve conducted studies and engaged in research for many years, I’m proud that we now have a central hub to share insights with others through our Research & Insights page.
We know the financial investments we make in nonprofits across our region will always be a major part of who we are as a foundation. These grants are one of the most valuable resources we can offer – which will continue to be an engine for improved health and wellness, guided by our commitment to advance health equity in Central Texas. Over the years, however, we have also grown to appreciate the role that data and research can play as a resource in its own right. Ultimately, bolstering our research and data-sharing capabilities will allow us to better serve our partners and support the work in which we invest. This effort is not new. But it reflects an intentional refocusing on how we enable our staff and our grant partners to use data for learning and ongoing program improvement.
We will continue to build on the progress made with partners such as Good Measure to amplify impact and build strong cultures of learning. We will also revisit how we share information in more digestible formats, such as our upcoming Community Health Needs Assessment, to ensure that insights from community conversations and health data trends can lead the charge for future programming and investments across our region.
2020 was filled with profound loss and painful injustice. This difficult year also challenged our team to refocus how we can use data and insights for a better future. Our goal for the years ahead is to serve as a resource for our partners and the nonprofit community by sharing insights that inform action.
There is power in data and power in partnership and I look forward to serving the Central Texas community in my new role. As someone who has spent the majority of her career in philanthropy as a program officer working closely with grantees, and prior to that, as a community organizer and advocate for social justice, I am passionate about the link between data and action – recognizing that the tremendous time and effort put into collecting, analyzing, and reporting data should result in something meaningful and impactful.
As part of my ongoing learning, I would love to hear how others use data and research of all forms to inform action. Please reach out to me as we envision a future, together, in which we can stop predicting how healthy a person will be based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or zip code. I look forward to learning with you.
Becky Pastner, MPAff
Vice President of Evaluation and Strategic Learning, St. David’s Foundation