CIE Summit 2021 Event Takeaways

The best conferences are like reading a dozen books in a single sitting. Immersed in the most exciting conversations in a given field — imagination ignited — you spend the rest of the calendar processing insights! For the last two years, the Community Information Exchange (CIE) Summit hosted by San Diego 2–1–1, Health Leads, and Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) has done that for me.

Held September 8–10, organized around “Leading with Community to Drive Systems Change,” the Summit delivered. It was not an “academic-y” meditation giving lip-service to “community” as a concept with half-hearted calls for empowerment, but a blueprint to put the community at the center of the work.

Here are my Top 5 Takeaways from the CIE Summit:

  1. Systematizing progressive race-forward activist values

CIE Summit represents one of the few times in my career where the traditional nonprofit establishment reflects the values of street-level activism. As Larry Krasner, the progressive Philadelphia DA, once noted, the activist community always reflects our society’s highest values. In the two decades, I have done population health work, there has been a disconnect between formal institutions and community organizers — that tension was not present here.

Participating organizations prioritized community voice at every level. They asked tough questions on how to cede power to the community for funding, program development, board engagement, staffing, and so on.

2) Disrupting the systemic racism embedded in technology, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations with a liberatory framework

Over the past year, I have spoken to many organizations — healthcare start-ups, nonprofits, community health providers, hospitals — wrestling with the tensions of trying to do good work in inherently racist systems. They struggle with prioritizing Community Voice in the right way to disrupt systems, reduce harm, and restructure institutions, but they wonder about the most effective ways forward. Many are stuck in savior-design thinking. Others want to make cosmetic changes without giving up absolute power. A mental health provider debated why a hard BLM stance would alienate their rural audiences, so they maybe they shouldn’t say anything at all. Another organization wondered if adding non-voting community seats on their board was a significant enough change.

Dr. Rhea Boyd, a physician and data expert, moderated some of the most impactful workshops I attended throughout the week. “Driving Systems Change from an Antiracist Framework” and an “Antiracist Framework for Data Equity” provided a framework to help organizations resolve these tensions for themselves. One slide that resonated deeply showed a continuum of system types organized by how they centered community. At one end of the continuum, predatory systems profited from supporting systems of oppression. At the other end of the continuum, liberatory models eliminated systemic oppression. It provided a model for mapping where systems were on this ideological continuum.

Learning this Framework over the week was truly mind-blowing. For organizations asking the right questions in search of honest answers, it is an invaluable tool. I have shared notes on these sessions at least a dozen times in the last couple of weeks since attending. I am sure that I will be going back to the PowerPoint decks again and again.

I would love to see 2–1–1 San Diego, CIE, or someone else put together a downloadable guide or a curriculum for interested organizations. These insights are groundbreaking. The Framework needs to be shared and taught. More organizations wrestling with these complicated tensions need to be shown a way forward.

3) Putting the person back at the center of person-centered care

Data and Story are critical to policy development, advocacy work, fundraising, and program design. Yet, organizations often lose the forest for the trees, or more appropriately, the person for the cause, in their efforts. The worst-case scenarios leave communities feeling exploited and people retraumatized.

The opening plenary on re-humanizing data put the person back in the center of person-centered care. This session was powerful, poetic, real, inspiring, and intentionally human. It marked the first time I ever choked up at a data conference! Tanissha Harrell, Director of Partner Engagement at 2–1–1 San Diego, and William York, the organization’s President & CEO, demonstrated remarkable courage and leadership sharing personal experiences (stories that are not mine to tell, but with a profound impact that needs to be acknowledged). The takeaway: make spaces to reassert our shared humanity in data sharing, story collecting, planning meetings, and presentations.

4) Misinformation is a Public Health Crisis

San Diego Board of Supervisors declared misinformation a public health crisis as we headed into the Summit. Over the last couple of years, I have joined a number of health communicators, journalists, public interest advocates, communication researchers, and digital media activists considering information as a public health issue. It is an alarm sounding even before the pandemic as confusion and misinformation has been weaponized and politicized toward dangerous aims. These dangers take on an even greater significance when access to information poses a threat to our collective safety. San Diego is the first municipality to make a declaration formally.

In preparation for the Summit, Odd Duck partnered with Interrupt the Violence, a community engagement consultancy, mySidewalk, a digital platform dedicated to democratizing data, and Tyanna Williams, a graphic designer and public health superstar, to create a guide titled “Storytelling with Data in a Post-Truth World” just for conference-goers. In it, we identified five keys to navigating this strange new terrain: (1) Validate the feelings and concerns underlying conspiracy theories, misinformation/ disinformation, and confusion; (2) Use strategic storytelling to shape and share a specific story; (3) Recruit trusted sources within the community who have influence; (4) Partner with the right messengers promoting the right message to make sure that community influencers are driving messages for the healthiest outcomes; and (5) foster a policy of data transparency and democratization.

If you are interested in a free digital copy, or if you would like to learn more about the workshop that it is based on: “Information as Public Health: How Mis/Disinformation, Confusion, & Conspiracy Distort Data Perception & What We Can Do About It,” sign up for our newsletter or contact us directly.

5) Data Literacy is an Avenue for Community Liberation

Several times throughout the week, a conversation that came up was how data literacy might be an emancipatory pathway for organizations through the antiracist framework and a tool in combatting misinformation. Dr. Sarah Martin, the VP of Health Solutions at mySidewalk, the digital platform for democratizing data that we partnered with on the guide for navigating misinformation, promotes a “teach them to fish” philosophy on data literacy. I had a few discussions on civic engagement and promoting data literacy that touched many of these areas. Data Literacy is crucial to navigating misinformation. It is an essential component in liberatory data system models, and I believe it is an integral part of creating and designing the future we want.

A Minneapolis-based, DASH-funded program known as the Data Squad is an excellent example of this work. In a partnership between public housing and public health, a team of data experts works with community residents to identify issues impacting their lives and use data to do something about it. From increasing walkability to improving public safety, residents learn firsthand how to collect, read, interpret data and use it to improve their community. We wrote about it in the story “When Data is Neutral Ground” for the All In Data for Community Health publication “Lessons from the First Wave” found here (check Section 2, Story 1 on page 14).

It is a model that I would love to see replicated throughout the country.

Conclusion

Over the last couple of years, the Community Information Exchange (CIE) Summit has been one of the most exciting conferences I have attended. They have provided the space to analyze and discuss community-led strategies for inclusion and equity, drawing on current events. Moving these conversations beyond academia, making them actionable, and spreading the most effective approaches are critical to race-forward, community-centric, genuinely empowering ways to redesign the infrastructure for our health and social service systems.

Founder/Chief Narrative Strategist of Odd Duck, a boutique storytelling for social change communication firm. Essayist, creative, and social change raconteur