Lessons from Detroit: Empowering the Community through Data Training

| Stephanie Quesnelle, research analyst at Data Driven Detroit

In June, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) at the Urban Institute and Microsoft released a collection of resources and recommendations on extending and expanding training opportunities for staff at civic organizations and governments to help them leverage data and technology to tackle local priorities.  To illustrate the foundations, learnings, and impacts that informed the NNIP study, we are delighted to have NNIP partners from around the U.S. sharing their experiences in developing and operating their local training programs in a series of guest blogs.  Below is one of these experiences. Other posts in this series are available from the Urban Institute and the OaklandPittsburgh, and Seattle partner organizations.

— Elizabeth Grossman, Director of Civic Projects, Microsoft

Data Driven Detroit (D3) is metropolitan Detroit’s community data hub. We collect, analyze, interpret and share accessible, high-quality data and information to drive informed decision-making. Our work is focused on increasing data-driven outcomes and collaborative planning processes throughout metro Detroit and Michigan. In that vein, D3 offers trainings and workshops to help community leaders and residents learn how to utilize data to improve their work.  

I spoke to Monique Tate, a community activist who has served her community for over 25 years. Monique works to increase resident participation in community development activities; redevelop commercial corridors; and enrich all Detroiters with improved internet access and digital literacy skills through the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition. From 2013 to 2015, D3 offered a series of workshops that taught attendees how to collect their own data, access D3 and the city’s open data portals, and visualize the data. Monique attended several of these trainings and in turn helped plan workshops during the Motor City Mapping project.

What did you learn from the D3 data workshops?

In those workshops, we learned to use the LocalData app to collect data in the field as well as how to use the D3 and City of Detroit’s open data portals. Knowing how to use the open data portal and the Motor City Mapping platform helped me integrate data in my own work.

I also use the portals to answer other people’s questions about property conditions in their neighborhoods. I’ve taught residents and community organizations how to look up information like tax foreclosures and vacancies so that they can more quickly obtain that information.

D3’s workshops taught me how to collect data in ways that support community development, and Motor City Mapping showed me the relevance and influence of mapping. I later applied these skills in a project about the East Warren Business Corridor. The local community organization, residents, and the District manager wanted to assess the retail corridor, build more cohesive relationships between the businesses and other organizations, and inspire the business development association along the corridor. I trained residents from the community so they could assist in data collection, and we documented information about each business and its structure.

The process strengthened connections on the business council and provided new data so we could work together to apply for community block grants for beautification and development of our commercial corridor. The data collection also led to the identification of some businesses that are interested in continuing the project. We also published all the data from the corridor initiative online to help future researchers and planning efforts.

How have our data workshops, both the ones you attended and the ones you helped plan, affected your own work in community development?

I’ve learned how to visualize data, which is important because graphics and maps tell the story more persuasively than writing out the information.

In my work for the Morningside neighborhood, we created a map to highlight the many amenities of the neighborhood. The excitement it created increased participation in the community group and encouraged people to move into the neighborhood because they understood what is available.

What would you tell other community activists about the value of data and technology training?

Learning about using data from experts like D3 helps you become better at your own job. It makes grant applications and reporting easier because you understand how to get data directly from the source instead of spending hours trying to sift through reports to find it. We’re blessed to have D3 staff in our community.

Data allows you to quickly respond to questions with accurate information. Data also helps us understand our own community more completely, which assists our organizations in maintaining relevance and supporting sustainability. If you build a central repository of data, your organization can preserve knowledge over time and reduce the challenges of staff turnover.

For Motor City Mapping, you helped us organize a variety of data workshops. What would you say is the key to developing quality training sessions?

Workshops need to be easy, relevant, and clear.

First, have an easy-to-understand message that takes into consideration the diversity of age, education, and experience. Don’t dumb down the concepts, but make sure they are accessible to the audience.

Second, think about the format. For example, it would be helpful to create and share videos on how to analyze data. Many people don’t want to read, but they will watch a video.

Third, inspire participants and communicate the relevance of the training. People need to understand why they need data and why it’s important to their project.

Lastly, understand how your audiences are going to use the data. For example, lay people utilize D3 data and tools for grants where they need to select a geography and easily filter to specific data. Showing them clear steps for accessing and analyzing data to do what they need for their jobs makes trainings worthwhile.

About the Author

Stephanie Quesnelle is a research analyst at Data Driven Detroit, a social enterprise that provides accessible, high-quality information and analysis to drive informed decision-making.  Stephanie holds a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University and loves developing quantitative models to understand the world around her.  In 2012-2013, Stephanie served as a Fulbright Scholar in Gdansk, Poland and remains passionate about preserving her Polish heritage in Detroit.  

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