Tracking the Well-Being of San Antonio's Children and Families

Author: Kassie Scott
Date Posted: February 1, 2020

Community Information Now (CI:Now, the NNIP partner for San Antonio) is supporting United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County as it leads the community in creating a future where young children are ready to learn, youth are prepared for the workforce, and families are economically stable. By tracking key data points together, United Way and their grantees will uncover how well they are reaching their goals through their $15 million dollars in annual investments and adjust their strategies over time.

In 2016, United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County (United Way) adopted a results-based accountability framework to identify goals, develop strategies to achieve those goals, fund programs to implement the strategies, make data-informed decisions, and adjust as needed to achieve impact.

As part of the transition, United Way convened “Impact Councils” in three issue areas: Ready Children, which prepares children to enter kindergarten and succeed in school; Successful Students, which readies young people from kindergarten to age 24 to enter the 21st-century workforce; and Strong Individuals and Families, which promotes economic stability and freedom from discrimination for everyone. Each group met over a period of months to select which indicators would show improvement in the lives of Bexar County residents. The Impact Councils included around 80 residents, nonprofit staff, funders, academics, government officials, and content experts.

CI:Now staff supported the Impact Councils’ planning process throughout 2018 with custom data analyses and products to inform decisions about which specific issues, inequities, community populations, and neighborhoods to prioritize. The groups tapped CI:Now’s extensive knowledge of local, state, and national data sources, asking on-the-spot questions to understand the pros and cons of particular progress measures and data sources. The Impact Council members improved their confidence in working with data through the collaborative process, asking increasingly nuanced and challenging questions of the data over the months.

Having the data also helped the diverse stakeholders come to consensus about how to measure their aspirations for the community. Mary Ellen Burns, United Way’s senior vice president of grant implementation, observed, “You look at what are the facts, what are the data. It totally changes the conversation. It is about facts, not perceptions. Actually, community change starts happening at this juncture because now people understand what’s real, and they develop a sense of urgency to act.” With the data in front of them, the members were able to focus on the challenging questions, debate what the data mean for communities, and decide what is most critical to achieve.

Over time, each Impact Council moved from their goals and interests to concrete indicators to assess the current conditions and monitor progress. For example, the Strong Individuals and Families Impact Council was concerned about low-income and high-poverty rates. CI:Now proposed that the Impact Council explore disparities by race and ethnicity and sex in full-time workers’ median earnings. In the end, the council chose to track a “wage disparity ratio” that quantifies the distance between the group with the highest versus lowest median full-time earnings. Currently, full-time non-Hispanic white men in Bexar County earn nearly twice as much as full-time African American and Hispanic women of color. Knowing this, United Way grantees can shape their programs and, potentially, their own internal compensation practices in ways that will help narrow that gap and allow the Impact Council to see whether the desired change is happening.

This new, impact-oriented approach changed how United Way allocates funding, starting with the 2019 requests for proposal released by each Impact Council. Applicants are now required to prove their ability to have a quantifiable impact on the common set of performance measures. United Way recognizes nonprofits may find the transition to being held accountable for their contribution to community-level outcomes challenging, so they are helping the agencies adjust to the change and develop their data capacity. In turn, the Impact Councils are open to learning what works and, if needed, making changes to performance measures. Together, United Way and their partners are building a culture of mutual accountability, with each group thoughtfully using data to become more effective in achieving their goals for Bexar County.

This story was written by Kassie Scott at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with Laura McKieran and Mary Ellen Burns. Community Information Now (CI:Now) is the San Antonio partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Paternship, a learning network in 30 cities, coordinated by the Urban Institute. Alll partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods. 

United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County is a strategic, mission-driven organization with a clear goal: help all community members achieve and maintain self-sufficiency to the greatest extent possible. United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County brings value communities by working every day to increase the organized capacity of people to care for one another.


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