D.C. Data Conference: A Meeting of the Minds

From May 12 -14, our staff attended the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) bi-annual meeting in Washington, D.C. NNIP is a project of the Urban Institute that helps integrate neighborhood-level information systems with local policymakers and community leaders.

The conference was a welcome opportunity for Data Driven Detroit to network with other data organizations and share recent work, new ideas and community solutions.  We know that your eyes may have glazed over, and you would have had a hard time hiding your yawns. But for us, it was a rare opportunity to engage with folks that are truly interested in numbers, methodology, metadata, and how our work can help transform communities.

One of the highlights was a presentation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about its 2010-2015 Strategic Plan.  HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic was present to review the five goals laid out in the plan: 1) Strengthen the Nation’s Housing Market to Bolster the Economy and Protect Consumers, 2) Meet the Need for Quality Affordable Rental Homes, 3) Utilize Housing as a Platform for Improving Quality of Life, 4) Build Inclusive and Sustainable Communities Free From Discrimination, and 5) Transform the Way HUD Does Business.

We were particularly intrigued by this statement in HUD’s executive summary about the importance of policy backed by good data:

In the last quarter century, a golden era of innovation was unlocked. This innovation, coupled with advances in tech­nology and management and the use of data and evidence-based policy, has helped create a New Business Model in places that have adapted to these changes, bringing a new accountability to the public sector. …We believe a new business model can unlock a much broader scale of transformation—both within HUD and more broadly with the potential to fundamentally change the way federal government works.

HUD wants to make more information available to their customers so that resources can be targeted. According to the plan, they are committed to “taking the holistic, cross-cutting view of community development required to make the biggest difference on the ground.”  Mr. Bostic, both during his presentation and after a question and answer session, left the data people gathered at the conference with a feeling of hope that somewhere behind the curtain, the culture is changing in D.C.

In a strange way, we were comforted by the fact that Detroit is not the only region wrestling with tough issues these days.  Many of our partners in states with manufacturing-based economies are also grappling with the effects of the decline of manufacturing in this country; many suffer from racial tensions similar to our own; most see the same urban-suburban disparities so characteristic of our metro area.

Still, they are rooting for Detroit to get back on its feet, and for our region to move forward.  We left D.C. with a renewed confidence that by sharing good information and forming evidence-based policies, the citizens of our region can find a way through our current challenges toward a brighter, more prosperous, equitable and sustainable future.