Advancing Racial Equity and Improving Communities in Connecticut with DataHaven’s Unique Survey

Author: Elizabeth Burton
Date Posted: November 27, 2023

Imagine if every town knew what share of their residents felt safe in their neighborhoods, were getting the medical care they need, or were struggling to cover household expenses because of inflation. Thanks to the DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey (DCWS), people in Connecticut have this—and much more information on other factors affecting individual and community well-being—to help them better advocate, plan, and set priorities. First launched in 2012, DCWS enables policymakers, media, foundations, community groups, and residents to understand the lived experience of people in the state.

Conducted across six waves with a seventh wave planned for 2024, the DCWS provides one-of-a-kind information based on over 40,000 live interviews from randomly selected adults in every Connecticut town. It covers a wide range of topics, such as people’s experiences and opinions on safety, financial well-being, health and health care, neighborhood satisfaction, and the criminal legal system. The DCWS also collects information on characteristics such as age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, household structure, experiences of incarceration, disability, income, and employment that are crucial for understanding local needs. DataHaven develops these survey questions with input from an advisory council that represents more than 300 public and private organizations. The council votes on the indicators that will be most meaningful in any given year; since 2020, DataHaven has added many new indicators that focus on racial equity, the impacts of COVID-19, and trust in the health care system.

DataHaven shares its findings in two signature products: the Community Wellbeing Index and the town equity reports. The Community Wellbeing Index provides comprehensive reports for Greater New Haven, Greater Hartford, and Fairfield County that combine in-depth DCWS data with local, state, and national data analysis. The town equity reports, which also incorporate local-level DCWS data and other sources, help to frame the needs of the 169 towns and a variety of broader administrative regions within the state, with a focus on racial equity. They inform grantmaking strategies and are widely used by journalists, residents, and others, with more than 15,000 downloads. The DCWS data are also used in other reports provided by DataHaven in sectors ranging from housing to workforce development, and to support the evaluation of several multi-year federal grants that fund community health interventions in cities including Hartford and New Haven.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is one of more than 80 state and local government, health care, academic, and community partners that fund DCWS. The foundation invests in DataHaven’s efforts, because its rigorous methods, community-centric approach, and racial equity lens result in high quality data. In one instance, the foundation’s program officer reviewed the survey findings on low social cohesion in a Hartford neighborhood at a time when residents were calling for beautification and public art. The combination of DCWS data and community feedback led to increased coinvestments with the city government for neighborhood greening and programs that boost neighborhood trust, such as Love Your Block.

In addition, DCWS and related reports facilitate collaboration with Hartford’s sister community foundations in Fairfield County and Greater New Haven for planning and sharing tools and presentations. The state’s community foundations also promote data literacy for local nonprofits, so that they can effectively use DCWS data in their planning and grant applications. For example, a coalition of public and private groups used DCWS data to successfully apply for a $30 million Promise Neighborhood grant. And many hospitals and public health departments across Connecticut incorporate DCWS data into their community health needs assessments.

DataHaven continues to share DCWS and other related analyses to help people use the data for action. With these robust and accessible data and reports, communities, policymakers, and foundations are better able to center resident experiences as they work toward improving the quality of life for people in Connecticut.

This story was written by Elizabeth Burton and Kathy Pettit at the Urban Institute, with support from Mark Abraham at DataHaven and Kate Szczerbacki at the Hartford Foundation. NNIP is a learning network, coordinated by the Urban Institute, that connects independent partner organizations in more than 30 cities. DataHaven is the NNIP partner in New Haven, Connecticut.

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