Passion for rigorous research and collaboration brings Annie Pennucci to Building Changes as our new director of measurement, learning and evaluation. Pennucci will lead the Data-Driven Culture Initiative, evaluate Building Changes’ work and grants, and build an internal culture of learning as a member of the leadership team.
Social justice has been a strongly held value her entire life, and Pennucci sees evaluation and research as core to advancing it. Her career has led her to tackle research into some of the most difficult social issues we face: reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, strengthening public education and the effects of institutional racism. “My job is to look hard at the evidence to see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s important to do that well, and be rigorous, so anyone can agree on the facts. Once we settle those basic questions, we can move onto the right way to implement, to fund, or to advocate for what works,” she explains.
Homelessness is where many of those social justice questions come together for Pennucci. The root causes of homelessness cross many sectors, such as education, economic disparities, criminal justice, and physical and behavioral health. Pennucci’s own experience researching these systems led her to Building Changes, where she sees a similar cross-sector perspective—and an ability to advocate for effective programs and services that go beyond what she has been able to do in the past.
Pennucci comes to Building Changes from Olympia where she served as associate director of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. During her 16 years there, she routinely advised the Legislature on evidence-based public policy while fulfilling research project requests from both public and private stakeholders. She conducted a number of rigorous studies that cut across policy areas, including education, children’s services, public assistance and behavioral health. Her familiarity with a large number of state databases will give us fresh insights into family and youth homelessness.
Pennucci takes a practical, incremental approach that will help her colleagues strengthen their own work, while equipping them to better understand data. She is already digging into the Data-Driven Culture Initiative—an effort to help local counties improve their ability to analyze and make decisions based on data. She is impressed by the progress so far, and eager to tackle the next phase, as the group strives to equip leaders and policymakers with strong data as they shape their local response to family homelessness.
“Annie has a unique ability to lend clarity to complex research—an increasingly valuable capacity to have in an organization like ours,” said Helen Howell, Building Changes executive director. “When policymakers are able to comprehend the evidence and data before them, they are in stronger positions to use that information to drive their decisions.”
I always start with: what do we need to know to move the needle on homelessness? Evaluation can take a million different forms—but it’s not worth doing, if it’s not useful to the people who are actually doing the work.
Collaboration is a closely-held value for Pennucci. As an evaluator, she depends on colleagues to understand the context of her work, and to identify the right goals and priorities. “I always start with: what do we need to know to move the needle on homelessness? Evaluation can take a million different forms—but it’s not worth doing, if it’s not useful to the people who are actually doing the work.” With Pennucci’s expertise, Building Changes hopes to bring more practical, well-researched information to the homelessness field—and help more families and young people leave homelessness behind.
Building Changes also welcomes Emily Harris-Shears as a senior manager. She is overseeing our Family Homelessness Initiative in Snohomish County and also will work on other projects. Harris-Shears worked in King County for Catholic Community Services, where she was instrumental in the agency’s efforts to implement two key strategies supported by Building Changes for addressing family homelessness: Rapid Re-Housing and Coordinated Entry.
Her most recent job was in Indiana state government, where she coordinated a homelessness grant portfolio of more than $3 million for the Housing and Community Development Authority. While there, she applied many of the best practices she learned in King County to bring about changes to the state’s homeless response system.
“Emily will be a great asset to our efforts in Snohomish County,” said Liza Burell, Building Changes program director. “By being involved in the implementation of effective homeless response strategies in different jurisdictions, she can offer creative options to our partners as they tailor practices to fit their needs.”