The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a national network of local data intermediaries like D3 that work together to support the development and use of data in local policy-making and community building. Twice a year, we gather in one of the partner cities to share project work, best practices, and new perspectives everyone is working on in their respective cities and we just got back from the Spring 2017 conference in Baltimore.
Usually, when we come back from an NNIP meeting, we share takeaways from formal conference presentations or links to interesting resources from other partners. This spring, we’re mixing it up with a bird’s eye view of some common themes from the presentations. A holistic approach to data collection, analysis, and communication can have a powerful impact. There are four themes that we try to keep in mind while designing and implementing our work, which also came up in many of the NNIP sessions.
- Power of the narrative
- Power of evidence
- Power of restorative practice
- Power of genuine collaboration
Power of the Narrative
Storytelling is powerful because it connects our data points to a real human experience. How we frame our data and analysis matters because the narrative drives how the information is received and the actions that result. One of our favorite examples of powerful narratives is Solutions Journalism. ModelD is a local publication of the Issue Media Group and they do great long-form narrative pieces, like this one about early childhood center quality in Detroit.
Power of Evidence
While narrative is important, facts highlight the real problems. It’s so important in our community to have real data that identifies the problem, defines the scope of the challenge and a goal, and provides measurable indicators if that goal was achieved. We know that exposure to lead in childhood has impacts on that child’s life, we have access to blood lead levels from tests, and we can identify communities where lead poisoning is a big problem, which helps target prevention initiatives and allows us to measure decreases in blood lead levels.
Evidence can also make more abstract concepts like economic and racial segregation more concrete. For example, one of our projects right now is helping update the “Business Case for Racial Equity”, a report that provides data to business leaders about the financial cost of racial inequality in Michigan.
Power of Effective and Genuine Collaboration
Along with giving back to the community, it’s powerful when we can have a two-way conversation that exchanges information beneficial to both parties. Community members can help us shine a light on the data and tell the story, but it only comes together if both parties are willing to learn from the other. Knowing the problem is one thing, but engaging the people who might utilize the solution ensures it actually meets the need of the community. One way to do this is through human-centered design thinking (the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs implements it well in this report).
In our work for Turning the Corner, a national initiative related to neighborhood change, we’re engaging community leaders in a Citizens Advisory Group. We’re asking CAG members to contribute their on-the-ground knowledge of neighborhood change—quantitative indicators we should look into, critiques of our model related to predicting change, input into the actual membership of the CAG. They’re also helping us identify interviewees from specific Detroit neighborhoods that will help our report tell a powerful story about how important it is to identify neighborhood change.
Power of Restorative Practice
In addition to collaboration, there is a serious need to give back, whether through providing research results in a digestible format or a new tool that is functional and easy to use. With the magnitude of the challenges in Detroit and the number of innovative ideas in the city, it can feel sometimes like the Detroit has been researched to death. This is exhausting for residents as they’re usually promised that this will inform a new big initiative and subsequently fizzles out. It’s so important to have community participation in research, which helps
One of our key initiatives with Microsoft is the Civic User Testing Group or CUTGroup. D3 recruited a network of Detroit residents to test out key websites and apps designed for them to ensure the information useful and the design makes sense. Our most recent test was of the Detroit Ledger, which tracks grants given to Detroit nonprofits.
So there you have it, a glimpse into the collective brain at D3. We strive to keep these four aspects of our work in mind at all time and try to incorporate as many aspects of compelling storytelling, understandable data points, giving back to the community, and engaging that community in the actual process. Even more importantly, we were thrilled to see these themes reflected on frequently during the NNIP meetings. These four themes are important to keep in mind as we all pursue our work in local data collection and encourage data-driven decision making.