15 Years of Data Driven Detroit

Text "Happy Birthday to Us!" with a large birthday cake emoji saying "15 years!"

Our biggest anniversary yet! While we’re focused on the data work necessary to be the community data hub for Metro-Detroit, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on the last 15 years of our organization, and how we’ve become we are today. Look forward to more thoughts in the future, but for now some notes from our founding Director Kurt Metzger, one of our two Co-Executive Directors and longest employee Erica Raleigh, and our former Skillman project manager Marie Colombo.

From Kurt Metzger, the founding Director of what became Data Driven Detroit:

While I don’t want to go on for pages regarding D3 memories, I do want to highlight some of my fondest memories of my 2008-2013 odyssey.

  1. The opportunity to help create Data Driven Detroit was the ultimate highlight of my 40+ years of demographic dealings in Detroit
  2. I was working at United Way in 2008 and attending meetings between the City of Detroit and the Foundation community.  One particular meeting at the Detroit Athletic Club stands out.  I was seated between Rip Rapson (Kresge) and Mayor Kilpatrick.  The topic of discussion was the foundation community’s recognition of the foreclosure problem in Detroit (they had already created an Office of Foreclosure Prevention and Response) and its need for more comprehensive neighborhood based data.  Mayor Kilpatrick leaned over to me and said “that sounds like the perfect job for you.”
  3. After discussions with Kresge, Skillman and City Connect Detroit, I received a contract on August 6, 2008 to be Center Director with the Detroit Area Community Indicators System (D-ACIS) Project.
  4. My first 2 hires were Greg Parrish (from the City of Detroit) and Erica Raleigh (sent by a faculty friend at Wayne State – a brilliant referral)

Other highlights….

  • The Detroit parcel survey conducted in 2010 put D-ACIS on the map
  • Our offsite discussion the resulted in the name change to Data Driven Detroit (D3)
  • Our invitation to Tech Town when the Barden Building was purchased by GSU and we were forced to leave
  • The move from the 1st floor of Tech Town to permanent space on the 3rd
  • All the people who have worked for D3 over the years.  Many continue to work in Detroit and point to D3 as the experience that made it all possible.
  • The selection of Data Driven Detroit (D-ACIS at the time) as a member of the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Project (NNIP) – a selection made during our first year of existence
  • Hosting the NNIP partners in Detroit
  • And, last but not least…..Erica Raleigh

From Erica Raleigh, one of our current Co-Executive Directors, and the person who has been at Data Driven Detroit the longest, almost from the very beginning:

15 years… I feel so lucky to have been on this journey for so many years, and to have learned so much along the way. When we were founded, the community data landscape looked completely different than it does today. Our primary objective back then was to “liberate” data from bureaucratic silos and let as much as we could see the light of day. It was not normal practice in the Detroit area for governments and organizations to publish data, and it was more common to try to protect it from public view.

Reflecting on this milestone of 15 years, my overwhelming feeling is that of gratitude. I’m grateful for the dozens and dozens of colleagues who have worked at D3 over the years, many of whom are still good friends today. I’ll spare everyone the long list of names, but I owe Melissa Smiley a long overdue shoutout for whipping this place into shape, turning us into a real organization, and showing me the value of establishing seemingly simple processes that are the lifeblood of D3 to this day.

I’m grateful for all the funders and partners we’ve worked with over the years. We’ve learned everything we know about how to share data with others by working alongside you. We’ve received grace from folks when we messed up. We’ve leaned on you when times are hard, and we’ve celebrated the wins together, large and small.

I’m grateful to Kurt Metzger for having all the experience, the relationships, and the vision to found this place for our community. We have him to thank for setting the incredibly high standards we strive for, and for cultivating the democratic culture that makes D3 an engaging place to work and grow. And I have him to thank for taking a chance on a crazy kid with very little experience and a lot of passion who pestered him relentlessly until he decided to hire me.

Today the data landscape looks completely different than when we started. There is data everywhere, the City and many other units of government in Michigan have open data portals, and we’ve been fortunate to participate in a few initiatives to create new, useful datasets on topics people in our community care deeply about. All the people who have been part of D3 in one way or another have had an impact on this massive shift in data availability. Congratulations on 15 years everyone!

From Marie Colombo—former Director of Evaluation and Learning at the Skillman Foundation—and our long time program manager at the Skillman Foundation:

Congratulations to Data Driven Detroit (D3) on its 15th anniversary—quite an accomplishment for a stand-alone data provider with a commitment to providing accurate, useful information for the community’s benefit.  I have the historian’s privilege of being present at the beginning—remembering the meeting with Tonya Allen (The Skillman Foundation) and Laura Trudeau (Kresge Foundation) when they agreed to co-fund the creation of a Detroit-focused data repository.  Both foundations were embarking on Detroit-based work and recognized the lack of detailed information to inform efforts.  If they are the D3 godmothers, then Tom Kingsley from the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Project, is the godfather.   His advice on structure was critical, and I still remember his remarks at the Detroit-Area Community Information Systems’ public announcement (yes, that was the cumbersome first name for the organization).  Andrew Gatewood, and later Wendy Lewis Jackson from Kresge and I had the privilege (and sometimes challenge) to serve as program officers during those initial years of D3 creation and development.

There have been many effective stewards of D3:  its first home at City-Connect Detroit under the leadership of Geneva Williams; its second home at the Michigan Nonprofit Association with leadership from Donna Murray-Brown and Kelley Kuhn and finally, as a creatively conceived low-profit limited liability company (L3C) that has been successful in creating a revenue stream to support its mission.

Kurt Metzger, Detroit’s data guru, provided initial leadership with the support of an advisory board committed to the mission of making data available to residents, nonprofits, and philanthropy—people who were committed to improving conditions for Detroiters.  Now I get to Erica Raleigh, the young woman who had the vision and courage to assume leadership of the organization and to guide it through challenging fiscal times to become the well-established organization it is today.  She has stayed focused on the mission, created an innovative worker-owned, distributed leadership model (partnering with Noah Urban), that continues to be a valuable resource to the region.   As I work in other places doing neighborhood-focused philanthropic work and deal with the absence of accessible data, I am reminded what a valuable resource D3 is to Detroit.

We’re only just beginning! Do you have a project that needs data support? AskD3 to get started!

Copyright © 2022 Data Driven Detroit. All Rights Reserved.