How It Was Made: New framework for measuring community assets
The Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing was rewarded a grant by the St. David’s Foundation to identify the presence or absence, of programs, services and resources (assets) within Travis County that promote overall health & wellbeing of children in early childhood and promote resilience for families at risk or have already experienced trauma. The report features a new framework for addressing this issue on a community, family and individual level. As Communications Coordinator at the Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing, I worked closely with the research team to help them present their research in a professional report.
This was a fun project because I got the opportunity to work with researchers from different disciplines (social work, nursing, public health) and help build a new framework for assessing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are ten experiences that can occur in childhood that have been found to have a lasting negative affect on the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of people, even as they reach adulthood. ACEs are wide ranging factors like parental substance abuse, to not having enough to eat or clothing to wear. Measuring ACEs is difficult because you need to consider many areas of a person’s life to accurately access ACEs. Not only do you need to look at person’s relationship with themselves, family and peers you need to put this person’s life into context, so looking at their community and environment is a must. The researchers not only wanted to capture all these aspects of a person’s life, but also identify the different ways ACEs can be addressed, by dividing all the possible assets into three intervention levels. As you would imagine, with all these considerations, the resulting framework became pretty complex (See below).
This was when I was brought in to “clean up” this graphic. Not only did the researchers want to identify all 41 relevant assets, it was important that each asset was clearly labeled and placed in the correct sector (education heath etc.) and intervention level. To complicate it even more, they wanted it to be evident when assets fit into multiple levels and sectors.
I first approached this welcomed challenge as a data visualization. I aimed for accuracy and clear labeling. I did not want there to be any question about where a asset landed in the space. I also decided to expand the graphic into a circle, for more space but more importantly to model the graphic off of one of the existing frameworks the researchers were drawing from, the socio-ecological model. As someone with a background in social work and public health and big picture thinker, I’ve always been a fan of this model. It’s a way to holistically approach issues by looking at things from an individual, relationship, community and societal level. Perfect for a project trying to measure ACEs. See my first attempt below:
When I showed this to the researchers, they were really happy that I some how managed to fit all the assets onto one page, but to say the least, they were feeling a bit “uninspired” by this first visualization. This made me realize that accuracy may of not been the main goal of the graphic. It was time to meet with the team in person. I jumped in on one of their weekly meetings.
One of the researchers mentioned that the graphic didn’t explain enough about each asset and that they weren’t sure if people knew what to do with this information. The discussion then turned to the number of assets. Was it really necessary to list all of these considerations? Because work like this is often scrutinized, put under a microscope and sliced and diced by fellow experts, the team was understandably hesitant to leave out any assets. It was important to them that their colleagues, community members and all readers knew that they had did their research and were considering all relevant factors.
It then dawned on me that the framework was lacking a story. So I spoke up and said “So what story do you want to tell with this graphic?” At first the team was unsure. I continued, “As frameworks go, you want to lead people from where they are now to where you’d like them to ideally be.” The researchers chewed on this for awhile. It was then decided that it wasn’t really all that important to present all the assets accurately, it was important to paint the ideal picture of a community that adequately addressed all these assets in multiple sectors, and across intervention level. This sat well with the team. Any opportunity to positively present things, from a strengths-based perspective is our social work jam! After many iterations, word-smithing and discussion we finally landed on the graphic below.
I would of liked to of used less text, but it was a compromise to listing 41 assets. It was important to the team that we accurately describe what people should be considering in each sector. I also wanted the graphic to be visually attractive, and further illustrate these ideal conditions by showing examples of families who are thriving.
To further the usability of the team’s great work we also put together an asset map, which identified specific programs in Travis County in each sector who were making these ideal conditions come alive in this community. This “map” was also included in the report, but was also designed to be pulled out for community members to use as a resource.
Overall, the reception to our work was well-received. I learned a lot from this project. Sometimes it is necessary to try a few things to figure out what is you don’t need or want, but as a good rule of thumb, it’s good to work with your clients early and ask them that question every good communicator asks, “What story do you want to tell?”
See the full report below:
To see more of my past work visit my portfolio site here.