NNIP: Where Data Geeks Go To Meet

By April Urban

Last week, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) hosted its spring meeting in Baltimore. NNIP is a collaboration of the Urban Institute and local partners in 30 cities to further the development and use of neighborhood-level information systems for community building and local decision-making. Partners meet twice yearly to discuss common threads of their work across cities, to network and build connections between cities, and to keep funders and other national partners up-to-date on the activities of the network. The Poverty Center is a founding partner of the network; co-director Dr. Claudia Coulton helped pull the network together in the ’90s and we’ve been involved ever since.

I think partners widely agree; there is a dichotomous sentiment leaving the meeting and returning home. I am always energized by the amazing work happening at partner cities across the nation and simultaneously overwhelmed by the daunting desire to want to replicate all of that great work here in Cleveland. This spring, we were introduced to Baltimore’s research and data dissemination on the arts and culture sector in Baltimore. We met three new NNIP partners: Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative in Philadelphia, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research in Houston, and the University of Southern California’s Sol Price Center for Social Innovation in Los Angeles (I know I’ll be anxiously awaiting the release of this center’s neighborhood data tool).  We heard perspectives on how to navigate the new federal environment from the National League of Cities and others; I came away with a reaffirmed understanding of the importance of visualizing data to reach this audience, telling narrative stories in addition to quantitative research, and how focusing on return on investment in examining social problems will be critical. Panelists urged the room of local data intermediaries to continue following the data, keeping tabs on trends as policies shift, and to work with state and local governments to understand their growing role in working with and providing data as the federal level steps back its role.

All of this took place on the first day.

So how do we bring these great lessons and work back to Cleveland?

First, we are revamping neocando.case.edu to make it easier to navigate between our data systems and other data applications in our community powered by our systems, and to make it easier to find the data you’re looking for. We’re ogling a number of partners’ data search capabilities on their sites, and they provide a great jumping off point as we restructure our own. In partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, in the fall we will be formally launching the web version of the Progress Index, a neighborhood and community development corporation (CDC) service area indicators site that aids a more data-driven CDC industry in Cleveland. The tool itself is based off of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Community Profiles tool, built out locally in partnership with 216 Software, and we will keep our eye on other tools developed by NNIP partners as we iterate on this project and other online data-driven dashboards. We will continue to work with Case Western Reserve University’s Urban Health Initiative on the Health Data Matters project, aiming to make important neighborhood-level health data available to the community, and will bring relevant lessons from NNIP partners taking on health issues back to this partnership, as well as sharing local experiences with the network.

At the center of all of this work is the Urban Institute and its staff that, among other research and priorities, take on the work of pulling the network together, creating a timely and relevant meeting agenda, and creating an environment where partners are able to be open and honest (even when that results in some unfocused tomfoolery). This grassroots empowering style of leadership is truly exemplary and results in a channel for information and issues to feed from the ground up; hearing from partner experiences in the network leads to cross-site projects like the Civic Tech and Open Data Collaborative, Turning the Corner, and so many other projects that provide an avenue for experiences in cities to shape perspectives on national issues and policy.

The Poverty Center is great beneficiary of this network (hopefully we give back too!), and the data environment in Cleveland benefits as well. If you’re a local Northeast Ohio entity looking for more information about the network, or another city looking to bring NNIP to your community, feel free to give me a ring or send an email.  Now, back to that post-NNIP to-do list…

Written by Poverty Center Research Associate April Urban, who currently serves on the NNIP Executive Committee.