Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Strengthening Communities with Neighborhood Data

Neighborhood data expands the ability of communities to make transformational changes in communities. While communities have been collecting data for decades, local government began automating these records in the 1990’s, enabling agencies to track data over time.

Urban Institute released a book, “Strengthening Communities with Neighborhood Data,” that documents how government and nonprofit institutions have used information about neighborhood conditions to change the way we think about community and local governance in America. Map manipulation through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology has allowed cities to deepen their knowledge about communities. As cities share data cities across agencies, cities will be able to tell a more comprehensive story, past to present, around the interplay of different social factors and resources in communities.

The book outlines several examples of cities that have used data to affect larger change. Cleveland is an example of a city ahead of its time in launching an open data system in the 1980’s. They have been able to rely on institutions that could work flexibly and collaboratively with a variety of government agencies. Realizing the focus in neighborhoods was not adequate, they centered on the property level, creating a parcel level data platform to allow all groups to track properties. Austin collected data on the body mass index (BMI) of a population and mapped the inequities in the quality and proximity of grocery stores, health clinics, recreation centers, and other services for the purpose of connecting population with quality resources. Portland developed a regional equity analysis to inform smart growth policies in the region. The city framed access to green space as an equity issue. Chicago used GIS to map publicly available data on predatory lending. The data map resulted in a policy agenda that effectively addressed predatory lending in Chicago. These examples demonstrate how layering multiple data together provides a new lens for analysis to address the various factors necessary to improve a community.

While cities can call upon major institutions to collect data, it is important to engage the community to collect data in their neighborhoods. This approach involves training individuals to build community trust and develop community engagement and political skills. Structurally, this approach also ensures that communities build a community knowledge capacity to track data from year to year even when local governance changes.

In order to sustain data collection and analysis effort, cities have been able to operate with local funding and use government funding to leverage support. The data collection field is currently surveying the funding base to project future needs.

As data continues to be a critical source of information to guide community change action, Urban Institute and others in the field are developing tools and approaches for neighborhoods to track and use data. National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a collaboration of the Urban Institute and local partners in 35 cities to further the development and use of neighborhood-level information systems for community building and local decision-making. To find out if you are a neighborhood partner,visit the website.

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