Monday, March 9 2015

Leading the Learning

Mei Ling EllisMei Ling Ellis, Director

Asking tough questions, focusing on data, and gleaning insight from evaluation results: all in a day’s work for Mei Ling Ellis, MPH, MSW, Building Changes’ first Director in charge of Measurement, Learning and Evaluation.

In her new position, Ellis leads Building Changes’ efforts to generate information, build knowledge, and transform that knowledge into insight that will improve the practice of the homelessness field. Executive Director Alice Shobe said, “Mei Ling’s recent promotion reflects not only Building Changes’ commitment to put data and results at the center of everything we do, but also her own ability to communicate clearly and really lift up what we’re learning from the work of our partners.” Indeed, one of Ellis’ unique contributions to Building Changes has been the “Grandmother Test”: Would your grandmother understand what you’re saying? If not, revise!

Ellis joined Building Changes two years ago as a Senior Manager, bringing more than 12 years of experience as an evaluator and researcher for nonprofits and foundations focused on impacting social change, including Casey Family Programs and Seattle Children’s Hospital.  She has worked in a range of areas such as alcohol and drug abuse treatment/prevention, adolescent suicide prevention, at-risk youth prevention, ethnic identity formation, child welfare, domestic violence, education, and employment. Her experience and training uniquely combine research with clinical work; both disciplines inform her approach.

Ellis believes addressing homelessness is a primary prevention strategy for many other social issues, from child welfare to health care and education. “What inspires me is the potential to impact so many vulnerable children and families. Building Changes’ partners are doing such innovative work. I’m glad to be leading efforts that will harvest insights and share them broadly with the field,” said Ellis.

Under Ellis’ leadership, Building Changes is deepening its focus on measurement and learning, including a growing research and evaluation portfolio with exciting new efforts rolling out in 2015.

Washington Youth & Families Fund High-Needs Family Evaluation

The High-Needs Family (HNF) model is permanent supportive housing that helps homeless families with multiple barriers to stability. A multi-year study of this model, conducted by Westat, is helping Building Changes and our field understand the needs of these families and their experiences in supportive housing. Preliminary results released last year show the impact on families after 12 months, including improvements in residential stability, employment and income, and family reunification.

2015 marks an important milestone in the HNF study, as we release complete findings in areas such as physical health, behavioral health, child welfare, education, and a cost analysis of the model. At the same time we’ll engage with HNF grantees across the state to gather their insights and learn about the human story behind the findings. In the fall we’ll start examining families as whole to see if different types of families experience more positive outcomes—and then begin to understand why.

Family Homelessness Data Dashboards

In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Building Changes has led efforts with King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to develop the infrastructure for a shared tool that allows county partners to easily access and use their homeless data to drive decision-making. The collective work over the past year and a half to develop these data dashboards has been inspiring, and we look forward to supporting implementation of this tool, so that counties can “use better data to make smarter decisions.”