Emergency Alert

We are taking applications online and over the phone. We're in your corner!

Staff Spotlight: Alanna Williams – Building Learning Systems to Enhance Community Impact

Posted on Category Staff Spotlight, Stories

“I wanted to get the perspective of people who are experiencing the barriers that society puts on them, from accessing services to getting a better job. As someone who cares deeply about social systems and poverty, I wanted to really understand and be involved.”

Discussions of privilege have permeated the zeitgeist in the past few years. But for Alanna Williams, Community Action Marin’s Director of Learning and Evaluation, it has been a lifelong recognition. “From a young age, I couldn’t imagine doing anything that wasn’t in support of others,” says Alanna. “I think I’ve been very lucky in my life, and if we’ve been so lucky, it almost feels like a personal and moral obligation to elevate others. To really give everything you’ve got to making your world—be it your community, state, or country—a little bit better.”

On her path to social change, Alanna studied economics in college and then began a career in socioeconomic data analysis. “I’m coming from Opportunity Insights, a research institute at Harvard. I was on a policy team that translated data on economic mobility—how people move up the income ladder across different socioeconomic factors. I’ve also worked with non-profits that support that type of research and translate it into concrete policy and action.”

Although she found the work meaningful, Alanna was craving direct connection to community. “My experience was all in academia and with the federal government—it wasn’t rooted in the community. I wanted to get the perspective of people who are experiencing the barriers that society puts on them, from accessing services to getting a better job. As someone who cares deeply about social systems and poverty, I wanted to really understand and be involved.”

With that goal in mind, Alanna joined the agency in August of 2020. “I’m excited to be a part of Community Action Marin because it’s such a concrete example of actually helping people.” As Director of Learning and Evaluation, Alanna analyzes the agency’s gaps and needs, designs programs to address them, and actively learns from qualitative data, quantitative data, and social listening. “We pay attention to what the community is telling us directly. Were they able to move from a state of crisis up to stability? To thriving? We’re prioritizing the use of data and outcomes in programming and strategic planning throughout everything we do at Community Action Marin.”

Another crucial part of her job is process building. (Think: securing documentation, evaluating flowcharts, and integrating data systems.) “I know that sounds super boring and weedsy but it’s really important for understanding how we’re functioning,” Alanna explains. “For example, a lot of our families have low bandwidth because they’re dealing with so many systems. Community Action Marin wants to minimize that burden so they don’t have to provide the same data five times or answer the same surveys over and over. It’s not glamorous but it’s foundational.”

Even though Alanna has only been with the agency for a few months, she has already experienced its positive effects. “Coming from a bird’s eye view to being on the ground and seeing how systems and programs work for low-income populations—it’s just mind blowing,” says Alanna. “It’s a reminder that we need many levels of institutions to be working together in efforts to tackle poverty. It’s the people and programs who are working directly alongside communities that are doing a ton of the heavy lifting. The fact that someone can come to us and get support—from direct cash assistance to childcare—that’s real in a way that is super powerful. We can feel confident in our impact.”

X