Improving Community Health Using Public Health Data

Community public health data are the building blocks to healthier communities, from access to clean parks and safe air to nutritious school meals and clean water.

To ensure public health data accurately reflects the real-world experiences of people from diverse communities, it’s essential the entire data process—from collecting the information to analyzing and sharing the findings—is grounded in principles of equity.

With insights from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the CDC Foundation developed Principles for Using Public Health Data to Drive Equity, also known as the data equity principles, to create more equitable data planning and sharing processes.


The five data equity principles are:

Illustration of the five data equity principles
  1. Recognize and define systemic, social and economic factors that affect individual health outcomes and communities’ ability to thrive.
  2. Use equity-mindedness as the guide for language and action in a continual process of learning, disaggregating data and questioning assumptions about relevance and effectiveness.
  3. Proactively include participants from the communities of interest in research and program design to allow for cultural modifications to standard data collection tools, analysis and sharing.
  4. Collaborate with agencies and the community to generate a shared data development agenda ensuring a plan for data completeness, access and prioritized use to answer high-interest questions.
  5. Facilitate data sovereignty by paving the way for communities to govern the collection, ownership, dissemination and application of their data.


Achieving health equity requires every data practitioner—data analysts and epidemiologists, funders, program managers, community partners and state leaders to harness data in a way that embraces innovation, inclusion and community voice. Yet while many public health professionals acknowledge our data systems would benefit from greater community engagement, each context presents unique local challenges.

The data equity principles provide actionable examples public health practitioners can use to create change.

“We have been making a big shift to center equity in our work. There are some barriers because this is a new idea for many of us, me included, and our systems are not designed to accommodate it,” said a participant in a data equity principles training. “We are basically rethinking a lot of those systems. One of the things I realized I could do with my power as project director is create formal roles for a health equity in data science specialist,” which is a role that involves activities related to accessing, collecting, cleaning, storing, organizing and integrating data to help solve problems and drive decisions.

The move toward more equitable data practices has a broad impact in research and program management; across sectors such as social services, philanthropy and public health; and across organizational levels, such as local, state and federal government. By working together, we create better opportunities for everyone’s health and build trust in our communities.

To further explore the principles, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded a series of videos to emphasize all our roles within public health data and further the conversation about building more equitable practices. By providing ideas for how different actors can apply the data equity principles in their work, the CDC Foundation hopes to showcase the many ways to create more accurate and actionable data.

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