Detroit Harmony: A Collaborative Case Study

Header image with illustration of a female band conductor with flowing music notes and the text "Mapping music education for Detroit kids"

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, recognizing the vital, enriching role music can play in students’ lives, founded Detroit Harmony in 2020. Detroit Harmony’s mission is to bring an array of musical experiences to Detroit students. In line with this mission, the principal goals of Detroit Harmony are to provide musical instruments to all students wishing to play an instrument and to connect them to opportunities to learn to play the instruments.  

To facilitate these efforts Data Driven Detroit (D3) began discussions with Detroit. Harmony about providing them with a template they could use to map music resources in the Detroit area – similar to D3’s involvement in many of our partnerships. The discussions initially focused on providing Detroit Harmony with a map of demographic data about kids in Detroit in order to provide context to the available music resources in the city. The idea was that Detroit Harmony could take the map to funders to demonstrate the state of their network and what their plans were for growth. It turned out that collecting data on musical opportunities for kids—such as taking classes at their school—was much more difficult than anticipated.

Collecting data is difficult. Most of the time it’s harder than you think. Some of our partners work with us to understand best practices of data collection or lessons from the field we’ve gathered over the years, while others already have data they acquired externally or collected internally. If you’re going to engage in your own data collection process we have a primer on How to Collect Data. Detroit Harmony fell into both of these categories; they provided data on their partners while still searching for other data to add.

After some additional data work on both sides, D3 reconvened with the Detroit Harmony team to discuss the possibilities of the map. While a map of demographic data about Detroit kids was initially considered useful for them to analyze where students may need  instruments and classes, Detroit Harmony ultimately needed a convenient means of accessing information about musical resources. They already had a dataset of their partners that included individual instructors, organizations, and musical programming. D3 was able to supplement that with a dataset of the music classes offered by the Detroit Public Schools Community District that we sourced from our connections at DPSCD.

The types of programs included in the resulting prototype datasets are music classes offered at individual DPSCD schools (including the grade level and type of music class offered), and the location and contact information for music teachers, music programs, and Detroit Harmony’s partner organizations. To use this tool, which is in its final testing stage, Detroit Harmony staff enters an address, chooses a radius in miles from that address, and the tool returns a list of music classes, instruction, and programs within the search area offered by Detroit Harmony partners and DPSCD music courses. Thus this tool enables Detroit Harmony staff to help parents, residents, and Detroit Harmony partners identify the music opportunities within a specified area.

The project that started as a map for analysis and grant funding support morphed into a prototype mapping tool showing the locations of music programs. The new tool achieved the original objectives of identifying gaps and opportunities for more localized music programming and demonstrating the impact of their network to funders. The tool quantifies and increases efficiencies in finding resources that they can update themselves as they grow their network through partnerships and outreach. But perhaps most importantly, the tool allows them to make connections between kids and classes in a way they were never able to before. The map at the end of this project was very different from the one originally envisioned. Through open discussions between D3 and Detroit Harmony and by overcoming a data roadblock the project was refined and became much more useful than the original intent.

This tool as used by Detroit Harmony illustrates how data can be harnessed to make life-changing opportunities available. Too often, statistics about Detroit emphasize the downside of life in Detroit. In contrast, this collaboration uses data to enrich the lives of thousands of children by identifying opportunities to experience first-hand the marvels of music.

In a New York Times obituary, the late pianist André Watts “…described music as a sacred space in which he felt he could breathe and flourish.” It was a privilege for D3 to work with Detroit Harmony as they work to grow this sacred space for the schoolchildren of Detroit.


Do you have a project that might change from start to finish?
AskD3 to get started!

Copyright © 2022 Data Driven Detroit. All Rights Reserved.