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Transforming Communities through Data

Data is one of the most powerful tools that can be used for community transformation. 

Communities that take ownership of data can leverage it to shift policy priorities, generate political momentum, hold institutions accountable, and grow funding infrastructure to support community needs.

But historically, institutions have used data to maintain power in ways that have misrepresented and harmed the people whom this data is supposed to serve. Data belongs to the people that it represents; if your community has not yet taken ownership of your data, now is the time.

Step 1: Get everyone on the same page

The key to driving equitable change is to include people in the conversation who have a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. But inclusivity does bring some challenges, particularly when it comes to data analysis. Some people might come to the table already equipped with knowledge of complex analytical tools, while others may have important perspectives but have no prior experience contributing in conversations around data. Some may be familiar with one tool, and others familiar with another that works completely differently.

Start by ensuring everyone at the table is ready to engage using a common “language” and a shared, foundational understanding of place-based and spatial thinking.

Step 2: Define the neighborhood

Sometimes a “neighborhood” boundary lines up nicely with the census-imposed boundary lines. Sometimes it doesn’t. If you want to create change in the neighborhood, you will need to get clarity on how this neighborhood is defined. 

Pull together a community mapping session! Draw your own lines and decide which geographic units of analysis are relevant to your neighborhood.

Step 3: Pick your sources

There are a lot of data sources out there. Which ones do you want to use to represent your community? If none of them are providing the information you want, how can you create that data?

Select the data sources that provide information that is meaningful to your community, and determine what additional data needs to be created to capture the bigger picture. Then create them! Pull it all together and display it in a data dashboard.

Step 4: Talk to each other

Find as many community members as you can, and bring them together to talk about the data that your data team has pulled together. What patterns emerge from the data? What do those patterns mean to parents? What do they mean to kids? What do they mean to school teachers? 

Encourage conversation, dialogue, and critical questioning from everyone in the community. 

Step 5: Dig deeper

Take a closer look at any notable discussions or questions that emerged in these community conversations. This might mean collecting more data, especially relating to the topics that community members cared the most about. 

Find or create more data that is specific to the themes and areas that are most important to the community. Explore tools like PhotoVoice, or develop new community surveys to ensure you are capturing relevant data.

Step 6: Create your story

Data by itself does not create change. Data creates stories that create change. Bring everyone together to come to consensus on the narrative that will represent your community. When you engage policymakers and funders, what story should they hear? 

Once you have your narrative, start creating! There are many ways to share your story, including data visualizations, maps, graphs, and writing.

Step 7: Take action!

Now that you have harnessed data into a powerful community tool, use it!

Locate the people and institutions that can partner with you to achieve your community’s vision and goals. Leverage your stories and visualizations to help them hear you. 

Data belongs to the people!

Want to learn more? Check out our Data Best Practices and City Recommendations.

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