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Data is not objective. Power and perspective matter, a lot.

Heather Krause, founder of We All Count, presents a concrete approach to embedding equity in data projects that is immediately relevant to Metro DNA’s Equity Principle + Commitment concerning the Collection, Use, and Dissemination of Data.

This post is a summary of a presentation delivered to the GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations) Community earlier this year and used as part of a program evaluation course in the Nonprofit Pathway Certificate program at Red Rocks Community College. You can also follow Heather Krause on Twitter @datassist.

What we have said on the topic

While data is critical to the work of Metro DNA, we acknowledge that historically the collection of data has not always benefitted, and has sometimes harmed, those from whom the data was collected. 

Recognizing the complex history of the use and collection of data and information within marginalized communities, Metro DNA commits to responsible and ethical use of all data and information gathered for collaborative projects. The data will be used to increase equitable access and participation in nature and the outdoors and collected in ways that uplift people with marginalized identities.

What Heather has to say, based on her education and experience

Embedding equity and rooting out bias in data projects should and very much can be a part of each step in any program or project evaluation, quantitative research project, or exploration of data.


Each project begins with funding. The collection, use, and dissemination of data is expensive and there are lots of opportunities for power to influence results. Developing a funding web can help clarify who is giving and receiving money, influence (decision making power), and data with respect to a particular project. In the example below, what is missing?

In this, quite common, model of data collection there is no citizen compensation or power, even though these individuals are the lifeblood of the project; they are providing the data. Corrective measures could include paying people for their time and creating opportunities for shared ownership of the data and its interpretation and use.  


Next, consider motivation. Why are you doing the project in the first place? The definition and framing of any project create opportunities to consciously and unconsciously embed power and perspectives. A clearly stated motivation statement can create benefits for both the providers and users of data.

The motivation statement can and should relate to and contribute to a program, project, or organization’s theory of change and logic model. In other words, it should relate to what work is being done, for whom, why, and with what assumptions and understanding underpinning the actions being taken and evaluated for their effectiveness.

Project Design

Project design then proceeds in a three-step process. This process moves us from “why” to “how” we’re approaching a data project.

Envisioning the project without resource limitations and from multiple cultural perspectives, what Heather calls the “Blue Sky” phase can lead to more innovative solutions.

A great example is Native Land Digital, a project that “strives to create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous ways of knowing, and settler-Indigenous relations.” Their map and Territory Acknowledgement Guide offers up an alternative frame for asking and answering geographically explicit questions using pre-colonial geographic boundaries defined from a multitude of cultural perspectives. We have the capacity – right now – to explore data through more than just the lens of the nation, state, county, city, and census tract if we choose to do so.

Next, how we define our research questions should be considered. Where are we placing the responsibility for change? How else could this research question be phrased?

If the data project asks this question, a student’s response may be healthy, but the environment in which they are living may still not be healthy (e.g., bullying is still rampant). Likewise, we often look at “equity” using an image like this. How else could we envision both the current reality and desired future?

What if we depict the individuals as equal (the same size) and the system as unequal?

Then, not only is our illustration of the situation closer to reality, the differences and barriers are institutional and structural as opposed to individual…

… and the change we seek to affect is systemic rather than individual. Again, neither approach is “wrong”, but the framing of the project and the phrasing of the research question or questions has a fundamental impact on the process and results.

Third, and only once you know what you want to ask and why, you design methodologies to collect and analyze the data. Often randomized control trials (RCTs) are considered the “gold standard” for quantitative research, but the standard for what and for whom? RCTs give an unbiased estimate of the average treatment effect (intervention) on a study population. RCTs do not show (in fact, they hide) within-population differences.

This example, from a data project evaluating the effectiveness of a program in rural Bangladesh to increase women’s income, shows that the same data looked at one way show overall success, but when looked at another way, shows significant differences in results for different ethnic groups. With a more detailed methodology, the data show that the program intervention tripled income inequality gap in this community.

Data Collection & Sourcing

Next, comes data collection and sourcing. Are you collecting new or using existing data? If using existing data, do you know who has measured it and how they have define social constructs (demographics like gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc.) or other categories into which you will group data? Finding or creating detailed Data Biographies allows us to compare “apples to apples” across datasets and populations. Without documentation and understanding of when, about what, for whom, why, how, and where data were collected, we can draw spurious and potentially damaging or misleading conclusions.


Our statistical choices are deeply embedded with power dynamics and world views that directly influence results. You don’t need to be a statistician to embed equity into your work, but you do need to understand and think about:

Denominators. Who is the population being engaged and studied? Whose perspective or point of view is being considered? For example, if you are interested in determining the average size of a classroom, are you asking teachers or students?

The answer depends on who is being asked the question. The answer is mathematically objective, but how the question is asked is completely subjective.

Elements of a Model. What variables are being considered? How are they being analyzed independently and/or cumulatively? For example, if you are interested in who is most likely to have a low birthweight baby, how you consider ethnicity, community and state of residence, individual characteristics, and other variables of concern matters.

Again, there is no one right answer, but what variables the analyst choses to include and ignore influences the results.


Now it’s time to interpret your results. Interpretation is not the same as analysis and it is not the same as communication. What do your results mean? What might you do with your results? Your goals and your perspective influence how you see data and how you use data, making it easy to overstate or understate your case. For example, in a study looking at vulnerability to mental health challenges, interpreting the data from one perspective would lean one to focus resources on students who are black (racial equity lens), or male (gender equity lens), or not poor (economic equity lens). Interpreting the data looking across racial, gender, and economic perspectives, however, yields a different conclusion and leads to different interventions on behalf of the most vulnerable population in this particular sample: poor, white males.

Also, data results are generally NOT generalizable or transferrable from one community or study population to another. This is one important driver behind the Denver Urban Field Station; urban social-ecological studies that have occurred on the East and West coasts do not tend to conform to ecological and social patterns and processes that characterize Denver, Metro Denver, and the Intermountain West.  

Communication & Distribution.

Finally, you are ready to share your results and conclusions! There are still choices you can make that will support or further undermine equity.

For example, data visualization “best practices” are not culturally universal; they are based on white, educated, western perspectives and designed to “speak to” individuals who have learned to see and interpret information, shapes, and color in specific ways. It is important to know and work with your audience in order to deliver information that is relevant to them in a way that is understandable to them.

It is equally, if not more, important to check your assumptions and interpretations at this stage. Communicating incompletely or inaccurately what a data project does and does not say, conclude, or mean can have life and death implications for those who may be the target of policy or practice interventions based on the data.

For example, when ProPublic took a closer look at the COMPAS recidivism algorithm, they found that while COMPAS claimed to offer a prediction of how likely an individual is to reoffend, what it really predicts is how likely it is that an individual might come in contact with the police again, be arrested again, and not have the bail money for release. This is a chilling example of incomplete, inaccurate, and racially biased data interpretation, communication, and use.

In conclusion

I certainly have a better understanding of Metro DNA’s Equity Principle + Commitment concerning the Collection, Use, and Dissemination of Data. I hope you do to. Thank you for joining us in exploring how these concepts can guide our approach to the Regional Conservation Assessment and deepen our commitment to equity in pursuit of a Regional Vision for People + Nature.

OF/BY/FOR ALL — Harnessing the pandemic as a portal to a more inclusive future

In place their annual conference this fall, the Colorado Open Space Alliance hosted a FREE interactive webinar with keynote speaker Nina Simon, Executive Director of OF/BY/FOR ALL, a nonprofit founded to make civic and cultural organizations of, by, and for everyone.

As we all live through and respond to the complex challenges of this year, we are revisiting how we lead, create, fund raise, program, and engage with audiences. If the pandemic is a portal (as Arundhati Roy puts it), where do we hope it will lead us? How can we reimagine and reinvent our organizations to be more relevant and inclusive?

In this interactive webinar, Nina Simon shared concrete and future-focused strategies to help teams re-vision their organizations and relationships with communities.

You can access the recorded webinar here.

This webinar was sponsored by: Colorado Lottery, Great Outdoors Colorado, N.E.S. Inc., Phil Barber, P.C., Bayer Vegetation Management, Felsburg Holt and Ullevig, Logan Simpson Design, City of Boulder OSMP, City of Fort Collins Natural Areas, Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Boulder County Parks and Open Space, City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, City of Greeley, City of Westminster and Arapahoe County Open Space.

Informed voters are voters for people + nature

Metro DNA joined Mile High Connects last Thursday to host a dialog on ballot measures affecting equitable and affordable access to nature and housing in Colorado, Adams County, and Denver.

Chris Stiffler from the Colorado Fiscal Institute unpacked the Gallagher Amendment and the TABOR Amendment, which affect local property taxes, public school investments, and state and local governments’ ability to raise funds for public programs.

The Gallagher Amendment Repeal and Property Tax Assessment Rates Measure (Amendment B) would repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982, which fixed residential and business property tax rates at 45% residential and 55% business [1]. 

The Voter Approval of Certain New Enterprises (Proposition 117) would require a statewide vote on new state enterprises generating over $100 million in revenue within the first five years of operation. Enterprises were authorized by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) as independent entities that administer fee-based programs for specific goods and services [1].

Their are organized efforts both for and against these ballot measures. The Colorado Fiscal Institute’s analysis is included in the Colorado Ballot Information Booklet (Blue Book) [2].

Conor Hall front the Trust for Public Land discussed two ballot measures in Adams County affecting open space (1A) and infrastructure (1B) investments supported by long-standing tax assessments. One of Colorado’s fastest growing counties, the population of Adams County is expected to surpass that of Denver within 30 years.

Passed by Adams County voters multiple times, both of these measures will continue programs that have had proven, tangible results [3]. There is no registered opposition to either Denver 2A or Adams County 1A and 1B.

Sebastian Andrews with the Denver Streets Partnership shared details of Denver’s Ballot Measure 2A, which would fund the city’s climate action. The measure, and Denver’s approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation, was informed by work in other cities (like Houston, TX) and the Climate Action Task Force.

Supporters of the measure see this as precedent-setting local climate action. Arguments against focus on the potential for regressive and inequitable impacts of the tax on communities that are already struggling financially and the need for even more aggressive climate action [4].

To view the recorded web meeting, visit this link and enter passcode: i=0^Zt!V

Resources cited:

Metro DNA and Mile High Connects do not endorse any ballot measures or candidates. Our role is sharing information and empowering engagement.

@cottonwoodinstitute Thrival Kits Help CAP Students Stay Connected to the Natural World!

With schools transitioning to distance learning and students spending (understandably) less time outside, Cottonwood Institute has been faced with the tough question of how to make environmental education accessible and relevant in a time when we can’t do many of the things that normally make up a CAP Class.

Fortunately, their team has quite a few creative thinkers, and together we invented the “Thrival Kit,” a package containing everything CAP students need to build their connection to the natural world from home! Over the past few weeks, more than 50 students from New Vista High SchoolAngevine Middle SchoolCentaurus High School, and Aurora Expeditionary Learning (AXL) Academy have received their Thrival Kits in the mail. Inside they’ll find compasses, craft supplies, seeds and soil, and everything else they need to keep on thriving from home!

Read more…

We will never cease to be amazed by you!

CAP Instructor Erin Assembles Thrival Kits

@sandcreekgreenway is still open!

As long as officials are assuring the safety and advisability of outdoor activities with a social distance; we’ll encourage you to get out to the Greenway on your own, and we’ll have suggestions getting the most out of your visit. We’ll also include online resources we think you’ll enjoy–whether you’re an adult living through this period of isolation alone, or if you’re a parent or a child going stir-crazy during this challenging time.

Highlighted this week is this outdoor sensory scavenger hunt!


Get more great ideas by visiting and signing up for their “On Your Own or at Home” COVID-19 Dispatch Emails!

@volunteersforoutdoorcolorado helps us all find our place in stewardship… while staying at home

During these trying times, team VOC is diligently working to make sure our stewardship community stays strong and connected, and doing the right thing. Here are a few great ideas from their most recent newsletter.

Team VOC says: This won’t last forever, and it will take some getting used to.
But know that we are right there with you!

Maintain safe social distance on trails. If you can’t, stay home or close to it and take the opportunity to discover nature in your own neighborhood, whether it’s bird-watching from your balcony, exploring a local park, or tuning in to your favorite nature webcam.

Be ready to get back to work! All VOC volunteer projects have been cancelled through April to comply with state and federal guidelines and to protect the community from COVID-19. Plans are in the works so that we can be safe and “shovel-ready” when the time is right to resume volunteer projects. Learn more at

Learn something new or hone your skills. Visit the training calendar to sign up for self-paced and informative classes like Trails Overview and Ecological Restoration Overview.

Put your knowledge to work during the City Nature Challenge! VOC and other partners are embracing the healing power of nature and encourage you to join a global collaboration to document biodiversity in whatever way you can, even from the safety of your own home.

Thank you for all that you do, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado!

Inspiring words from The Greenway Foundation

Dear Fellow River Advocates,

Our world has changed. In a matter of days. The way we do business, the way we socialize, the way we take care of our basic needs. All have changed drastically. What has NOT changed is the need for Clean and Safe Rivers, Creeks, and Streams for Everyone.  In fact, that need is greater than ever!


Even in these difficult times, The Greenway Foundation (TGF) is fully committed to continue to be THE lead advocate for these historic and timeless priceless natural resources. With so much uncertainty surrounding us, one thing IS certain –  as the Executive Director at TGF for over 35 years, and as the eldest son of TGF’s Founder, I PERSONALLY pledge to you that:

  • TGF WILL continue to fight for increased water quality and water quantity opportunities for OUR River in Whatever Way Possible.
  • TGF WILL continue to create and deliver award winning environmental education programs for Denver’s children along OUR River in Whatever Way Possible.
  • TGF WILL continue to provide opportunities for our community to engage with OUR River in Whatever Way Possible. 
  • Not only will our longstanding Mission to Revitalize Rivers and Reconnect Communities continue, that Mission will continually increase!

I remind you that OUR RIVER IS OPEN! AND IT IS FREE! Outdoor exercise has been included among “essential activities” as long as participants adhere to the legally mandated safe distance of six feet or more from other parties. So, come to YOUR River!


I absolutely promise you that you will experience peace, joy and inspiration. I have created this outreach as I sit on our 2nd story balcony of our new offices at 1800 Platte St. within the amazing and historic Platte River Rowing Club, looking out directly at OUR River, Commons Park and a beautiful Denver that surrounds them both. I can’t wait until you can join me here!

Be Safe. Be Smart. Be Strong and never forget: Hope Defeats Fear!

@cottonwoodinstitute to the rescue!

Our amazing partners like Cottonwood Institute are pulling together resources and tools to help us all figure out how to navigate this storm:

Feel free to share widely and, if appropriate, tag @cottonwoodinstitute. Keep the good ideas, empathy, creativity, and kindness flowing!

CNDC Office Closure & COVID-19 Response

We wanted to share this message from our fiscal sponsor, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center, regarding their response to COVID-19. Metro DNA will continue to share guidance, resources, and ideas with our partners and friends as this situation develops and we get CREATIVE and COLLABORATIVE in continuing our important work of connecting people and championing nature.

“As you may have heard, Denver Public Schools and several other institutions have decided to close in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19. After careful consideration, we have decided to close CNDC’s office and have staff work remotely effective Monday, 3/16 for at least two weeks. We will re-assess at that time. We are making this decision to support the health of our staff and to minimize disruption in our support of Projects.

It is our intention to provide uninterrupted support to Projects while the office is closed. Although we will not be able to accept forms or checks that are dropped off and we will have limited ability to write paper checks, other services and support should remain the same [including payroll, electronic deposits, fundraising platforms, contracts, etc.]…

I want to acknowledge this is uncharted territory and I am sure there will be glitches. That in combination with a stressful time related to COVID-19 will likely create some frustration. I ask for your patience. Our primary goal is to ensure we can continue to support your important work while maintaining staff health and safety… please let us know if you think we are forgetting something… or see a pending problem. We need your ideas and feedback for how we can better support Projects during these challenging times.

We encourage any Project that has the capacity for remote work to move towards it as soon as possible…

We encourage cancellation of events and minimization of in person meetings…

It is important that you be in contact with your funders. We are reaching to several foundations to gauge flexibility regarding funding restrictions, including how funds are spent and reducing required performance measures. They have been supportive and we will be communicating with you if the ease of restrictions impacts your Project. Let us know if you would like us to reach out to specific foundations on your behalf or if you would like coaching how to do it yourself. Unfortunately, I do not anticipate government funders will be as receptive. 

We will continue to send updates to all employees… Please forward this communication to your board. We are happy to respond to any of their questions or concerns.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation and partnership. Most importantly, thank you for your commitment to your community and those you serve. Your work is what motivates all of us at CNDC. We will keep you posted as things evolve…”

Melinda A. Higgs | President & CEO
Colorado Nonprofit Development Center
789 Sherman Street, Suite 250 | Denver, CO 80203

A Partner for Nonprofit Innovation, Efficiency and Accountability