Driving Data Accessibility in Metro Detroit

| Erica Raleigh, Executive Director, Data Driven Detroit

Over the past several months, Microsoft has entered into an exciting partnership with the Detroit-based organization Data Driven Detroit (D3) to help expand and reinforce the civic tech ecosystem in Southeast Michigan. In this guest blog, Data Driven Detroit’s Executive Director, Erica Raleigh, introduces us to her organization and provides some highlights from the accessibility and outreach work that D3 is doing in the Motor City.


What does it mean to promote data accessibility?  Is it enough to make information available so that anybody can download and access it?  Or does accessibility require something more – is it essential to provide guided interaction and training to ensure that not only can people access available information, but can use it to make more informed decisions that better guide their work?  At Data Driven Detroit (D3), we believe that it starts with the audience you’re trying to serve with each effort to promote accessibility. We’re passionate about increasing access to data in Southeast Michigan, but we also believe strongly in lending our expertise to reinforce and empower the civic tech community to use the data that we provide and apply it to the challenges people grapple with on a day-to-day basis.

Through the support of two Southeast Michigan-based foundations, D3 was founded in 2009 by Kurt Metzger to build a centralized data warehouse for our community.  We’re a mission-driven organization, with the goal of providing accessible and high-quality information and analysis to drive informed decision-making.  Our organization and our work have continuously evolved over the seven years that we’ve been in operation, but our commitment to improving data accessibility and literacy in Detroit and beyond remains the cornerstone of what we do every day.

The foundation of our accessibility and outreach work is our framework of community tools and information systems that provide unique and easy-to-consume data to users across Detroit and beyond.  The D-Community Tool, which we developed in partnership with the Community Development Advocates of Detroit and NiJeL, allows community organizations to define their service areas and share information with one another.  The tool improves actors’ ability to coordinate across communities and provides funders and others in Detroit with a deeper understanding of the landscape in which they operate.  We also strive to make data as broadly available as possible.  Our Open Data Portal contains over 150 geospatial datasets that are available for download free of charge.  It also provides an API interface capability that allows civic tech innovators to develop directly on top of these freely-available datasets.


As we’ve expanded this foundation outward, we’ve also come to recognize the important role that a data intermediary can play in reinforcing the civic tech ecosystem in Detroit.  Therefore, the second objective of our accessibility efforts is to work directly with contributors (and potential contributors) in the civic tech space and nurture the abilities and awareness that are so important to participating in civic tech conversations.  Over the past several summers, we’ve provided data literacy, collection, and mapping workshops for community nonprofits.  Through these workshops, we’ve encouraged data literacy on a much broader scale, and acquainted a number of organizations to unique and novel technological solutions (expanding such programming represents a key element of our new partnership with Microsoft).  We also conduct educational workshops in partnership with local universities and schools, working to expose as many individuals as possible to data and technology, no matter where they are at in their education or careers.

In addition, we work to improve data accessibility through very direct means.  We collaborate with the City of Detroit’s Department of Innovation and Technology, including working with them on the most recent iteration of our Summer Data Workshop series.  We offer multiple programs to support and provide direct technical assistance to community organizations.  Foremost among these is AskD3, which provides data and technical assistance free of charge for up to two hours of staff time.  This program enables us to walk alongside the community through the process of fulfilling a request, further reinforcing their capacity to make data-driven decisions.  In 2014, we also administered a community mini-grant program, in which local neighborhood organizations received mini-grants of up to $15,000 to be used to support their participation in a civic data collection effort tied to the Motor City Mapping project.

In all our efforts, we keep one goal in mind above all others – one that ties directly back to our mission.  With these tools, workshops, and other outreach into Southeast Michigan’s civic tech and community sectors, our hope is to change the conversation.  We want to provide everybody in our region with the ability to speak a common language through data.  When people and organizations coalesce around the idea of using high-quality information, we sincerely believe that they can make better decisions, and more effectively allocate their resources and time.  Furthermore, when people from different disciplines and fields of work bring their unique data and perspectives into these conversations, it helps to create a community where disparate organizations across Southeast Michigan can learn, understand, and grow together, instead of functioning in an environment where information exists in silos.  In a region facing as many challenges as Detroit, these approaches are even more important than they would be elsewhere, and it’s why accessibility has remained such an important part of our work even as D3 has evolved over the course of its existence.

While improving data accessibility is perhaps the most important piece of work that D3 performs, it still is only one of the ways that we attempt to live our mission every day.  We’re always providing updates of our analysis, visualization, and data collection work on our social media outlets, and we’re excited to spotlight some of our most interesting and impactful projects in future guest blogs!

Erica_RaleighErica 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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