Data You Can Use


Sarah Laurent’s field experience at DYCU

This summer, as part of a field experience collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, and Data You Can Use, I was able to complete my field experience requirement for the Master of Public Health program in biostatistics. Throughout my field experience at Data You Can Use, I was provided a plethora of opportunities to showcase and refine my data analysis, visualization, and presentation skills. When looking at different site locations for my field experience, I came across the Data You Can Use website. I was initially drawn to the liquor license map that was uploaded to the site in 2018. I like the interactive aspects of the map and thought that it would be useful for me to learn how to use mapping software. In addition, I was interested in exploring the relationship between binge drinking and liquor licenses due my public health background.

With the help of my preceptor, Kathleen Pritchard, I was able to develop a final project that incorporated my objectives for the field experience, as well as develop a useful tool for Data You Can Use. I created a descriptive map of liquor license locations and binge drinking prevalence rates throughout the City of Milwaukee. In addition, I created a report summarizing my findings from the map and presented my observations and recommendations to local stakeholders. To create my map, I utilized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 500 Cities 2016 dataset of binge drinking prevalence rates throughout the City of Milwaukee. I then added data on liquor license locations from the City of Milwaukee Open Data Portal to the map and set an automatic refresh interval so that the liquor license data would remain up-to-date. From there, I color coded the map according to binge drinking prevalence and liquor license expiration dates.

Before starting at Data You Can Use, I had very limited experience working with mapping software, and I was worried I would not be able to complete the tasks outlined at the beginning of the summer. I am extremely thankful for the support and guidance provided by the Data You Can Use team, and I am very satisfied with the final product. I hope that community partners find my map useful when examining the relationship between binge drinking prevalence rates and liquor licenses within their own communities. In addition, I hope that my map provides data and information for stakeholders looking to take action against problematic liquor license establishments. I feel that my field experience was an extremely valuable opportunity, and I hope that the liquor license map created in collaboration with Data You Can Use will provide useful information for community partners in the future.

Data & the Arts – An Unlikely Pairing? Not Really. Reflections of My Internship Merging Research with Visual Storytelling

Some would think that a Bachelor’s in Digital Arts, would not be an ideal candidate for a data agency internship. Since I happen to possess such a degree, I had doubts about my application, considering I hadn’t opened Excel before 2017.  As a graduate student in Urban Planning, I was just touching the surface when it came to U.S. Census data. Yet, when I sat down with Data You Can Use’s (DYCU) president Katie Pritchard for my interview, I immediately understood DYCU’s mission of connecting local organizations to data, helping them interpret the information, and translating it to best serve their needs. To me this sounded exactly like my work in marketing and design.  Presenting information in a clearer, more appealing way and helping the clients to reach their audience. Fortunately, Katie agreed that analysis and visualization, or “telling the story,” is needed in the data field. And so, I was brought on for an internship with DYCU. Initially, I supported projects with my skills in photography and design, but was also given opportunities to analyze data directly, which is useful for my intended career in planning. Challenges in this position were expected, but welcome. I was barely familiar with Excel coming in, but I was eager to learn more. I knew that would mean taking educated risks, and making mistakes repeatedly until I got it. However, that is how I learned design software – learning by doing, growing through exploration. This approach, building on small successes, has helped creative types like myself, develop great skills while minimizing frustration. My first project proved an excellent place for this technique. I had the opportunity to discover and identify themes in a survey that explored residents’ opinion on comfort in different neighborhoods. This was part of DYCU’s partnership with the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and the Turning the Corner initiative. At first, I attempted to use a method I learned in class: pivot tables! I realized that it was over complicated for what was needed. My right-side brain came into play, and I realized that I was overcompensating for what I was missing: tools. Creative tools I had, quantitative ones I lacked. I worked with Carrie, and together we looked for relevant data using simple conditional formatting. Excel became more relatable using basic tools and I was able to find some of the hidden story in the data which I initially missed by focusing on overly complicated method of analysis. A simple truth from the arts also rings true in data fields: the simplest tools work best. The next step was working with Katie, having discussions about what data would be useful and interesting, given our partner’s goals and perspectives. Outside of these challenges of interpreting data, there was great joy seeing where I could lead and offer visualizations to bolster projects. DYCU had been working with the Zilber Family Foundation’s neighborhood initiative to make data portraits for Clarke Square, Lindsay Heights and Layton Boulevard West.  In a discussion with the staff of agencies who work in these neighborhoods, someone had the innovative idea to photograph key community destinations that would give context to the statistical data. Over the course of a few days I hopped on my bike and rode to explore each of the Zilber neighborhoods. Each neighborhood had unique opportunities for photos that held beauty and surprises. Some had murals that captured a neighborhood’s distinct culture and energy, others had points of interests ranging from the historic to the eclectic. Within each neighborhood, I found buildings nestled together that depicted the signs of change making its way through Milwaukee. Frequently, I found striking compositions in mom and pop shops situated next to national brand/big box stores. The images were interesting, but the story it could tell when paired with DYCU’s data is what really excited me. This photo project was deemed a success, and I had a second opportunity to look for images of gentrification in neighborhoods being researched by the Turning the Corner project. Katie provided guidance with questions based on qualitative data- what do residents, business owners and people who shop and play in neighborhoods think that gentrification looks like? The photo narratives I captured for the Turning the Corner neighborhoods documented signs of change, both positive and negative and stemmed from the ideas collected from residents and people who walk the streets in these neighborhoods. I intend for these images to honor how these communities have grown and simultaneously show what gentrification can erase: cultural history and sense of community. DYCU has not only been immensely generous over the course of my internship with their praise and use of my photographs in presentations and reports, their access by community organizations, but they have encouraged me to include more data inspired storytelling with my imagery. Photography can readily begin a conversation, but when paired with pointed and purposeful data it can become a catalyst for real long-term change. Thanks to the visual work I have done here on the Turning the Corner initiative, I presesnted a photo narrative on housing as a sign of neighborhood change for the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate School conference in February 2018. In summary, I find myself incredibly grateful for the experience afforded by DYCU and will continue to use everything I’ve learned in future projects!

The 1st full calendar year of Data You Can Use!

Although our nonprofit status was officially granted in May of 2016, 2017 was the first full calendar year for Data You Can Use.  We’d like to share a timeline of our highlights with you.  These events, milestones and projects are just a sampling of the work we did and the partners we collaborated with last year.

January: Release of first set of Neighborhood Strategic Planning Area reports

Data portraits for nine Neighborhood Strategic Planning (NSP) Areas were released in January 2017.  The portraits were designed with input and involvement from NSP coordinators, in partnership with the Nonprofit Center.  The data included was useful for several purposes, including planning, organizing and fund development.  Since that release, similar portraits were requested by neighborhood- focused agencies and foundations.  Now our website hosts twenty-one reports that follow this community organizer-developed template.

From a CPTED training which included Amani residents. Photo credit: Cassandra Leopold.

February: BYRNE Grant

Community Based Crime Reduction (CBCR), formerly known as the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant, is intended to provide local governments with funding focused on community policing strategies and social cohesion. DYCU is the research partner on a grant awarded to the Milwaukee Police Department in the Amani neighborhood, with partners including: Amani United, COA, Community Advocates, DA’s Office, Dominican Center, Hepatha Church, LISC, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, Milwaukee Police Department, and Safe & Sound. DYCU helped residents co-create and administer a neighborhood survey.

March : What makes your neighborhood great?

Too often, people come into a neighborhood to fix an issue.  Failure to acknowledge that services, agencies, people and businesses already exist in the area can be a missed opportunity to build existing assets.  Matt Richardson and Carrie Koss Vallejo walked through an asset map with community members, and Katie Pritchard facilitated a discussion on ABCD or “Asset Based Community Development.”  In March, we posted blog on the event and a “Identifying Neighborhood Assets” tool to our website, updated with feedback from the neighborhood changemakers at this event, community organizers and volunteers.

April: Hyper local health data from the 500 Cities Project

For a neighborhood organizer who knows that asthma is a big deal in their area, looking at County and State numbers can seem daunting and irrelevant at the same time.  Finding small-scale data for neighborhoods is a challenge, especially for topics related to health.  The CDC, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and CDC Foundation collaborated on data for 27 indicators related to adult health for 500 Cities in the US at the census tract level.  We explored this data and shared it with partners throughout the Spring.  In April, we were discussing adding appendices to our neighborhood portraits and Katie was preparing to share this data set at our Data Day.

May: Data Day!  May 31st

Data Day is our signature event, when dataphiles connect to discuss all things data. We hosted 20 speakers, a Data Dream competition (congratulations again to winner ACTS Housing), and a discussion that lead to the founding of our Health data Users Group (HUG).  We experimented with a new format including IGNITE sessions.  For those not in the know, IGNITE presenters get 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. The result is a fast and fun presentation which lasts just 5 minutes.  IGNITEs will be back this year  – the sessions received Excellent and Good ratings from over 90% of our Data Day survey respondents! 

Save the date for the next Data Day coming up on Wednesday May 30th, 2018.

June: Project Central Voice

Over the summer, DYCU worked with a team of community researchers interviewing residents of central Milwaukee neighborhoods.  Residents of the 53206 ZIP code were trained to conduct the interviews, a twist on the normal research method! The intent was to look for residents’ perceptions of community organizing and its relationship to crime control. During the second phase of the project, the focus is on documenting existing agencies, leaders, and assets in Milwaukee’s African American community. Partners in this work include the NAACP, the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Deborah Blanks from UWM.

July: A new workspace and team member –

DYCU moved into the UWM Zilber School of Public Health.  Our offices within the school allow us to partner with staff and students and network with other agencies, including the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD), with whom we co-host Van Le, our LISC AmeriCorps Service Member.  


August: First HUG meeting!

From the first HUG meeting. Photo credit: Cassandra Leopold.

With a group of founding members, we successfully launched the first Health data User Group (HUG) meeting.  The founding group set forth some operating guidelines and proposed topics for future sessions.  The purpose is to bring together neighborhood groups, public health officials, health practitioners and academics to explore how health data can be used to improve neighborhood conditions.

September: Urban Institute recognizes DYCU as its official Milwaukee Partner

 After review by the Executive Committee and approval of its full membership, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP)welcomed DYCU as its newest member.  NNIP is a collaborative effort by the Urban Institute and local partners to further the development and use of neighborhood information systems in local policymaking and community building.  Our partnership with NNIP has provided an effective forum to share and receive new ideas from organizations across the country.  

Photo credit: Cassandra Leopold.

October: Turning the Corner project

Turning the Corner is a national cross-site project that DYCU is involved in through NNIP and the Urban Institute.  The project explores the post-recession housing market and looks for indicators of change, focusing on neighborhoods that have the potential to become unaffordable for current residents and businesses.  The neighborhoods identified in Milwaukee for this project are Brewers Hill and Walker’s Point.  In October, DYCU staff conducted a focus group and several interviews with residents of Walker’s Point.  Look forward to our report which will be released in July 2018.  The broader cross-site report is planned for release by NNIP in December 2018.

November: DASH Conference

Katie Pritchard and Bridget Clementi from Children’s Hospital, were invited by the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) to participate in a special Summit on Health and Housing. This day-long program in Chicago preceded the Midwest Forum on Hospitals, Health Systems and Population Health. It was sponsored by ALL IN and brought together “health doers” who are using and sharing data to improve communities. Most projects are multi-sector, collaborative efforts. It’s a network of collaborations from across the country that provide technical assistance webinars, affinity group calls, one-on-one connections and an on-line community to connect with others in this work where few roadmaps are available. Our plans are to make these resources available to our Health data Users Group.  Let us know if you’re interested!  

Photo credit: Cassandra Leopold.

December: 30th St Corridor releases the Garden Homes Neighborhood Plan

DYCU promotes neighborhood-level data with agencies that have neighborhood level expertise, including the 30th Street Industrial Corridor.  In December, the Garden Homes Neighborhood Plan was launched, and we are excited to partner with this organization (and many others) which work to improve Milwaukee.

Baker’s dozen bonus project:         

On December 14th, the Community Development Alliance meeting took place at the Zilber School of Public Health. Katie facilitated a discussion on the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Peer City Identification Tool.  We had the opportunity to do a deep-dive into the data with community members who are actively involved in revitalizing Milwaukee’s neighborhoods and commercial corridors.

New Data for Better Neighborhood Health

This Spring, Data You Can Use sponsored a session at the Zilber School of Public Health highlighting three new sources of data that can help promote healthy neighborhoods. Participants included representatives from health clinics, hospitals, community development corporations, neighborhood organizations, the City Health Department, faculty and students from UWM and the Medical College of Wisconsin and United Way.  The slides from the session are available on our reports and presentations page.

The session introduced participants to each other, to new data sources, and the potential of using these resources to improve neighborhood health. It began with a quick quiz on the connection between health and wealth. Most participants were aware that:

  • people with lower income report poorer health (both physical and mental);
  • people with lower incomes have a higher risk of disease, and
  • people with lower incomes have a significantly shorter life expectancies.

Many attendees were surprised to learn that according to the research, promoting economic growth doesn’t always correspond to improved health. However, investments in improved health and nutrition are associated with improved productivity and economic development.The three datasets we presented can be used to further explore this connection. They include:

  1. CityHealth, from the deBeaumont Foundation which looks at policies that affect health;
  2. 500 Cities Project from the Center for Disease Control and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which provides health data at the census tract level; and
  3. the Milwaukee Community Data Base, a local portal for a range of data from a variety of sources.

CityHealth rates the 40 largest US cities on nine evidence-based policies that affect health.  It offers information on nine policies, by city and by policy. For example, evidence shows that health outcomes can be affected by paid sick leave laws, high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing/inclusionary zoning policies, alcohol sales control, Tobacco 21 policies, healthy food procurement policies and complete streets policies. Each city gets a rating and some earn a bronze, medal or gold depending on the policy. Milwaukee received medals in three of the nine categories, suggesting there is much to be done.

The group was interested in the “data deep dive.” For each policy, the site provides the full codebook, the data and, of most interest, the evidence. This is a great resource for assuring funders, board members, public officials, and most importantly, the residents in your neighborhood, that there is some evidence that the policy will make a difference.

500 Cities Data for Local Health

For dataphyles, this is an exciting new data set made available through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the CDC. For people who care about health and neighborhood conditions, this is a tool to better understand and address health disparities.

Although there is a growing understanding of the impact of place on , there has only been limited data available at the county and city levels. And we know that county and even city level data masks the disparities that are so important to address.

Now, for the first time ever, we can access the 500 Cities database and see the differences at the census tract level! There are 27 variables, reflecting unhealthy behaviors, health outcomes, and preventative measures. In Wisconsin, the data are available for Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Appleton and Waukesha. Using reliable small area estimations, we can compare Milwaukee to the state and national numbers, and for neighborhood enthusiasts, we can now compare neighborhoods within Milwaukee.

In a hyper-segregated city like Milwaukee, we are accustomed to seeing highly clustered data. The 500 Cities data reveal some interesting differences that should be affecting the way we target our resources.  The MapBook for Milwaukee is available on our website and has each of the indicators mapped across the census tracts. For those who want to examine comparative areas, the actual data can be accessed and used interactively.

The Milwaukee Community Data Base is a portal to readily available data. The group explored how this could be used to identify housing built before 1951 and therefore more likely to have lead-based paint and/ or plumbing. Combining this with other available information could help identify local health needs and mobilize solutions. For a neighborhood group, the ability to match street addresses with both young children, and the threat of high blood lead levels, provides the ability to target education and water filter distribution.

What Participants Said

The “quickie critique” suggested that the session was well received.

  • I liked the variety of data sources covered.
  • I liked the introduction to new data sets that I will certainly be able to use in my work.
  • I really appreciate you all taking the time to share these tools.
  • I liked learning about and getting to play with the datasets, A very helpful resource—thank you!
  • There is a great cross section of health/neighborhood representation here!
  • I like that it was in the computer lab so I could look through the sites while learning about them.

Besides a suggestion to add wine to the session (it was a Friday afternoon after all), one recommendation that came from several attendees was to provide more examples of how the data could be used.

What’s Next?

At Data Day 2017 MKE last week, we posted the 500 Cities map for Milwaukee throughout the day and participants took a data walk, noting some patterns unlike our usual heatmaps. This group agreed: there is much to explore.

So… to get things started, we’ll be convening a group of interested stakeholders to form a “users group” to explore the use of health data at the neighborhood level.  If you’d like to join us, please contact before July 6th 2017 and we’ll find a time to get started!

What makes your neighborhood great?

Who and what are the people, places and things really make your neighborhood a great place to live, work and play?

This question is at the heart of neighborhood asset mapping, and was the focus of a workshop for neighborhood leaders presented by Data You Can Use this past fall. We held the event at the Washington Park Library Community Room, which is a great space for communal events. We appreciate our public libraries as an important asset for us and for people we work with, and Milwaukee Public Library is a great resource for books, information and a lot more!

Observations from the workshop from the attendees

  • “I learned [a lot] about other neighborhoods & communities [in Milwaukee].”
  • “[I] realize how many assets I have in my neighborhood.”
  • “[This] broadened my view of an asset.”

I lead a session along with  Carrie Koss Vallejo and Katie Pritchard. We decided to introduce the concept of Neighborhood Asset Mapping through a series of exercises:

  • Begin by describing your own personal assets—strengths, resources, skills. Share some examples with the group.
  • Consider the benefits of discussing things in terms of assets rather than problems or deficits.
  • Discuss the concept of a “neighborhood asset”  from the Asset Based Community Development Institute.
  • Ask individuals to  list the assets that are in their neighborhood.
  • Break into groups to share assets and discuss findings. For a sample of assets identified see here.
  • Reconvene the full group to discuss how asset mapping can help identify gaps in a neighborhood and opportunities for connecting.

As I was learning about asset mapping from them, it was great to rely on the attendees’ expertise while planning for the event, and to have them on hand during the day!

What is neighborhood asset mapping and who is it for?

Neighborhood asset maps, or “Asset Based Community Development” is a term coined by the ABCD Institute out of Northwestern University. While a more detailed description can be found ts on their website, the basic rationale is this:

Without the capacity for change, neighborhood change may not happen. Focusing first on what assets a neighborhood has, and where the opportunities and gaps are can reduce the effort to make things happen, which increases a neighborhood’s capacity for change.

That statement sounds good, but what does that mean for a resident on a block?

Making change happen in a neighborhood takes effort, time and resources. One of the most important parts of any change process is to understand your existing resources so that you can build from what you have. This is really at the heart of the work of Data You Can Use and is what Neighborhood Asset Mapping is all about.

In short, asset mapping is a way to collaboratively identify and visually describe assets and to use them as the basis of  building stronger, sustainable communities.

So who is neighborhood asset mapping for and who should use it? It is a tool for all stakeholders in a neighborhood or community. That includes residents, property owners, community organizations, community organizers and government. The collaborative process of asset mapping relies on the knowledge and insights of the residents and stakeholders who live and work in the community. The focus on identifying existing resources rather than deficits is more action oriented and can allow neighborhood residents to begin to link resources together and begin to address issues that have a more powerful  effect.

What can you do with neighborhood asset maps?

It is common for neighborhoods that are struggling with a particular issue to work inside their neighborhood and seek outside funding and assistance to help make change happen. One of the challenges of working with multiple outside partners is this: what is valuable to a resident in a neighborhood is not always what appears valuable to outside eyes. While not always the case, DYCU believes strongly on a “resident-first” approach. When mapping assets, it is important to start with the voices of people who live and work in a neighborhood, then to bring in outside resources to help satisfy that identified want. This practice helps ensure that the needs of the community are clearly represented in community development work.

Data You Can Use has created asset maps, and some of those are available on our web site. Stay tuned for updates!

As much need or want as a neighborhood might have, identifying existing resources within the community is an important first step.  We are excited about partnering with others to use asset mapping in neighborhood development and in further exploring ways to assure that the voice of people who live and work in a neighborhood is integral to the work.

Want to learn more about Neighborhood Asset Mapping for your neighborhood? You can learn more about the ABCD Institute here and by contacting us.

Beautiful day in the neighborhoods


Photo credit: Milwaukee Christian Center

We are pleased to share three new neighborhood level data portraits. In addition to the many interesting facts within the reports, the background and development process of these reports is worth sharing.

In September, data portraits were released for  the City of Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Strategic Planning Areas.  Now the template has been adopted by a second set of neighborhood data users representing Amani, Metcalfe Park and, which are Milwaukee’s Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP) areas.  These reports highlight data chosen by community leaders, assembled by a data team, and now adopted by a second group of community organizers.  

It can be a real challenge to try to show  change in a neighborhood when the data can only be found at the city level.  With data assistance, however, these organizations can use datasets like the American Community Survey (ACS)  to inform their planning, and complement their  observations and neighborhood knowledge.  

To strengthen the partnership between those who need data and those who use data in Milwaukee, the Nonprofit Center convened a group of Neighborhood Strategic Planning Area (NSP) community organizers and worked with Data You Can Use staff, to develop a template of neighborhood data.  These community organizers provided critical input by:

  • Defining neighborhood boundaries, and
  • Prioritizing data for inclusion

The template began with standard data points recommended by the data team, including population by race and poverty status.  With input from the community organizers the template grew to include other data such as cost of rents and mortgages and the year housing units were built.  

The adoption of the report by a second group of community organizers is a sign that the reports were created thoughtfully and that the data are useful.  We at Data You Can Use will continue to collect feedback on what’s helpful to community builders and advocate for the use of data.  But it’s important to take a moment to celebrate this shared effort, and thank the community organizers and residents who have contributed their time and shared their priorities.

So, thank you to: Danell Cross, Sister Patricia Rogers, Pepper Ray and Juanita Valcercal for their insights and questions when creating these new neighborhood data portraits.

Weekly Data & Tech Workshop

Work on a project. Learn about data. Learn about new technology. Network with other Milwaukeeans working in data or tech. This is the weekly HackMKE Workshops, sponsored by the Milwaukee Community Database.

Sign up here!

Mondays 5:30- 7:30 PM

Please note the LOCATION CHANGE!
Ward 4 – (Pritzlaff Building, Quarles & Brady Boardroom)
333 N. Plankinton Ave, Milwaukee, WI

unnamedWant to learn about something specific or share a topic? Let us know! This is a place for you to work on what your projects and learn more about data and technology that will help you and the City!

Working Well Together in Milwaukee

Data You Can Use Population Health Service Fellow, Salma Abadin, worked with the Healthier, Safer, More Prosperous Milwaukee leadership team to create an inventory to document current services and to potentially identify other partners and resources in the Milwaukee area. The inventory – Working Well Together: The Intersection of Public Health, Safety and Community Development in Milwaukee, WI – is the result of agencies and programs that were invited to complete a survey that describes their work and the partners they have in community/economic development, criminal justice/safety, and healthcare/public health.

The Wisconsin Center for Health Equity has the report on it’s website.  With any questions, please contact Salma Abadin.

Safer, More Prosperous Milwaukee Inventory page

Your City Needs a Local Data Intermediary Now

Matt Lawyue and Kathryn L.S. Pettit
*This post was originally posted at, May 31, 2016

Imagine if every community nationwide had access to their own data — data on which children are missing too many days of school, which neighborhoods are becoming unaffordable, or where more mothers are getting better access to prenatal care.

This is a reality in some areas, where neighborhood data is analyzed to evaluate community health and to promote development. Cleveland is studying cases of lead poisoning and the impact on school readiness and educational outcomes for children. Detroit is tracking the extent of property blight and abandonment.

But good data doesn’t just happen.

These activities are possible because of local intermediaries, groups that bridge the gap between data and local stakeholders: nonprofits, government agencies, foundations and residents. These groups access data that are often confidential and indecipherable to the public and make them accessible and useful. And with the support of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), groups around the country are championing community development at the local level.

Without a local data intermediary in Baltimore, we might know less about what happened there last year and why.

Freddie Gray’s death prompted intense discussion about police brutality and discrimination against African-Americans. But the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) helped root this incident and others like it within a particular place, highlighting what can happen when disadvantage is allowed to accumulate over decades.

BNIA, an NNIP member, was formed in 2000 to help community organizations use data shared by government agencies. By the time of Gray’s death, BNIA had 15 years of data across more than 150 indicators that demonstrated clear socioeconomic disadvantages for residents of Gray’s neighborhood, Sandtown-Winchester. The neighborhood had a 34 percent housing vacancy rate and 23 percent unemployment. The neighborhood lacks highway access and is poorly served by public transit, leaving residents cut off from jobs and services.

With BNIA’s help, national and local media outlets, including the New York Times, MSNBC and the Baltimore Sun portrayed a community beset by concentrated poverty, while other Baltimore neighborhoods benefited from economic investment and rising incomes. BNIA data, which is updated yearly, has also been used to develop policy ideas to revitalize the neighborhood, from increasing the use of housing choice vouchers to tackling unemployment.

Local data intermediaries like BNIA harness neighborhood data to make underserved people and unresolved issues visible. They work with government agencies to access raw data (e.g., crime reports, property records, and vital statistics) and facilitate their use to improve quality of life for residents.

But it’s not easy. Uncovering useful, actionable information requires trust, technical expertise, knowledge of the local context and coordination among multiple stakeholders.

This is why the NNIP is vital. NNIP is a peer network of more than two dozen local data intermediaries and the Urban Institute, working to democratize data by building local capacity and planning joint activities. Before NNIP’s founding partners, there were no advanced information systems documenting and tracking neighborhood indicators. Since 1996, NNIP has been a platform for sharing best practices, providing technical assistance, managing cross-site projects and analysis, and expanding the outreach of local data intermediaries to national networks and federal agencies. The partnership continues to grow. In order to foster this capacity in more places, NNIP has just released a guide for local communities to start a data intermediary.

When used properly, data can reveal patterns within anecdotes, suggest potential solutions and validate the lived experiences of people too often overlooked. As open data efforts spread, government agencies will release more and more data to the public. Local data intermediaries will be even more valuable in helping users sort through the data to surface, explain and address the issues distressed communities face.

Matt Lawyue is a communications associate with the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, and Kathryn L.S. Pettit is a senior research associate with the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, at the Urban Institute. Pettit is also the director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership.

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