Voices of Change — Putting Data in Local Hands

| Erica Raleigh

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

– Microsoft Chicago


Data Driven Detroit (D3) exists because we believe in the power of the equitable distribution of information. Our mission is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to use high-quality data and analysis to drive informed decision-making, and through our use of technology and our engagement in the civic realm, we seek to:

  • Help drive greater impact in our community using fewer dollars and less time;
  • Assist residents in advocating for the change they want for their own neighborhoods;
  • Set the stage for productive conversations using a transparent and common set of facts.

As I reflect on the role technology plays in D3’s work, I’m reminded of an interesting contrast between two similar projects. In our first year, we partnered with three local organizations to conduct the 2009 Detroit Residential Parcel Survey. The survey included a handful of questions about every residential parcel in the City of Detroit. We had a pretty fancy system for our surveyors at the time: clipboards with stacks of paper listing addresses and blank boxes for responses to each question, along with accompanying maps showing the streets, parcels, and addresses in the vicinity.

It took us months to data enter, merge, quality control, and create a clean database with the results of the survey. By that time, our results were surely inaccurate given the rapidly changing conditions of an urban environment like Detroit. Even so, the data proved invaluable to our community partners for the next several years, as these were the only data available at such a fine grain for the city.

This experience is probably why it felt like a miracle when we partnered with Loveland Technologies in 2014 to collect the same data, this time for all parcels in Detroit, using a mobile app. In just 35 working days, we were able to collect and quality control data on 380,000 parcels, and have a clean database ready for analysis less than a week after we finished in the field.

I’m 33 years old. I remember the amazement I felt working in DOS and writing commands in BASIC with my dad when I was five. It was only in my early adulthood that I realized how lucky I was to have that early exposure to technology, and how privileged I was by accident of birth. My career and my business are devoted to making data and technology more accessible to everyone who wants to make a difference in the world, and I find my colleagues and partners in Detroit are similarly dedicated to true community empowerment.

Motor City Mapping Project

Since 2014, technology has evolved even further to allow us to place the data collection process directly in the hands of the people who know most about their neighborhoods, and who stand to benefit the most from the information. Monique Tate is a self-titled “Community Activist” from an eastside neighborhood of Detroit known as Morningside. She worked with D3 as a Community Outreach Coordinator on the Motor City Mapping project and learned first hand how neighborhood datasets can create digital inclusion and level the playing field for localized challenges that otherwise wouldn’t get recognition, let alone consideration.

This last summer, with a technology we license called LocalData, D3 started a pilot program that allowed communities to collect the data that would be most valuable to their efforts. LocalData intuitively allows a user to make customized parcel- and point-based surveys for any community in the U.S.  Findings are automatically stored in a cloud server and viewable almost instantly. Monique was able to create her own customized survey, rally a team of local volunteers, teach them how to use the tool, and coordinate them on her survey plan.  Within days, they had completed a parcel-by-parcel survey for a prominent business corridor in Morningside.  What required a highly specialized group of individuals and resources in 2009 took a local activist a fraction of the time to achieve similar results in 2015.

Detroit is an interesting place to think about empowerment. Our residents are among the most resilient, fearless, and hopeful people I’ve met, and we always find a way to move forward with whatever we’ve got on hand. When you put the tools of technology into the hands of individuals who have this resourcefulness, the results can be inspiring. We can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring!

Erica Raleigh joined Data Driven Detroit (D3) as a founding member in 2009.  Now the Executive Director, she began as a Research Analyst, with a background in housing, community development, transportation, and public safety research.  She is the lead author on “Neighborhood disinvestment, abandonment and crime dynamics” which was awarded the 2014 Best Conference Paper Award at the Urban Affairs Association annual conference.

D3 houses a comprehensive data system that includes current and historic demographic, socioeconomic, educational, environmental, and other indicators, allowing analysts to illustrate complex relationships by combining different datasets to reveal the true stories of our regions, cities, and blocks.  D3 is committed to providing access to information that can drive better decision-making, believing that everyone should have equitable access to information to make the best decisions possible for themselves, their organizations, and their communities.

Raleigh holds a Master of Urban Planning from Wayne State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies from the University of Michigan.

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