Dismantling Power and Privilege through Data: Prevention Ethics, Equity, and Social Justice

By Nicole Schoenborn, M.A., ICPS

Evaluator, South Southwest PTTC


As prevention professionals, working with data to conduct assessment and evaluation activities is part of the job. However, prevention professionals may not have training in data processes, and even prevention evaluators may not be trained in social justice and equity principles while conducting assessment and evaluation activities. Marginalized communities’ unequal opportunities to access data and, at times, their harm from data’s misuse, are a concern for prevention professionals, as these practices can contribute to poor substance misuse prevention outcomes. It raises the issue of data sovereignty, and the democratization of data. Data equity pushes us to consider the ways that data can reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate problems like racial bias, or otherwise undermine social justice. Data justice, a term that at times is used interchangeably or in close relation to data equity, has been tied to the ethics of personal data privacy, big data, and decision making that results from the datafication of modern society. But it is also used to encompass the complex meanings that data equity captures, including concerns regarding power and privilege, knowledge equity, and the ways that harmful decision making may be justified or maintained through data.


What it Means for Prevention Professionals


As substance misuse prevention professionals, it is part of our ethical code of conduct to take great care when working with data and communities. As advocates, we must tell an accurate and meaningful story about the communities we serve and the barriers they face in reducing substance misuse. Part of telling this accurate and meaningful story is including those we serve in each step of the data lifecycle.


This session focused on building the capacity of prevention professionals to ethically involve the community in data processes, through an equity and social justice lens. Activities included defining social justice and equity in terms of data and exploring how to include the community and engage them in data processes. Participants discussed practical scenarios with data and used the ethical principles to address the problem.


The session was designed for local, state, or community settings who work with data in the assessment and evaluation steps of the Strategic Prevention Framework. An expected outcome of the training is a greater capacity to implement social justice and equity principles into the data lifecycle back at their organization, state, or local community to call attention and advocate for needed substance misuse prevention issues that are occurring in communities to facilitate positive change.



Additional Resources

  • Approaches for Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Evaluation



  • A Toolkit for Centering Racial Equity Throughout Data Integration



  • Engaging the Families of Transgender and Gender Diverse Children



  • How to Embed a Racial and Ethnic Equity Perspective in Research: Practical Guidance for the Research Process



  • LGBTQ-Inclusive Data Collection: A Lifesaving Imperative



  • Principles for Advancing Equitable Data Practice



  • Why Am I Always Being Researched? A Guidebook for Community Organizations, Researchers, and Funders to Help Us Get From Insufficient Understanding to More Authentic Truth


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