It’s critical to our work to be connected to peers that do similar work in other communities. These interactions both give us new ideas and also enable us to share more about what we’ve learned here in our community. The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is the network that is most important to our work at the Regional Data Center. The work of NNIP is supported and coordinated by the Urban Institute, and there are partners in over 30 cities. Each of these partners works in their own community to strengthen capacity for data-driven decisionmaking, inform local and national policy, and build support for community indicators systems.
We’ve been a member of NNIP since 2008, and have benefitted from the many peer-learning opportunities provided through the network, including meetings, webinars, technical assistance, tools and guides. We try to never miss a partner meeting, as they provide an outstanding opportunity to connect with our peers. This fall’s meeting took place in Los Angeles in October, and it was both a great learning opportunity, and provided me with a chance to visit the City for the first time. Special thanks to our Los Angeles partner at the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the University of Southern California for helping to make it a great experience for all of us. Here are a few takeaways about the NNIP Partner Meeting and my Los Angeles experience.
- An interactive session gave attendees a better-sense of how to incorporate diversity into their organizations. The workshop stressed techniques for writing inclusive job descriptions in a way that does not discourage people who may not think of themselves as a good fit from applying. The workshop leader also advised us to promote opportunities through unfamiliar networks when recruiting employment and board candidates. We were also encouraged to look for candidates that will add a new and different perspective to our team rather than finding someone who will “fit” the existing culture. Finally, everyone was encouraged to collect and share data on the diversity of their staff and advisory boards as a way to stress and communicate the importance of diversity to our work. We expect to add to our team next year, so this session was very timely.
- At NNIP, a portion of the agenda is devoted to “unconference” sessions that are proposed and led by the members themselves. One of these sessions really helped me learn more about how to price our services, and I’ve already incorporated this into our pricing model. Some of our partners have a sliding-scale price structure, where rates for services are based on the client’s mission, ability to pay, or the immediacy of the deadline. Partners also shared ideas in how to build evaluation, technical assistance, marketing, and project management into their project budgets. The importance of having long-term contracts or retainers was also something partners discussed as helpful for their financial stability. I appreciate that our partners are so willing to share not only what works but also what doesn’t. I’m also glad that that details from the conversations like this one are incorporated into the guide “Business of a Local Data Intermediary” by the Urban Institute.
- A panel of funders also provided me with a better understanding of how to approach corporations for financial support. Corporate motives for supporting the work of data intermediaries includes alignment with the personal interest of a key company stakeholder, the degree to which the products and services are important to communities where the company does business, and the opportunity that a particular project will give the company a good story to tell. Companies also like to have a partner with a good track record, and so this session reinforced the importance of developing and maintaining a reputation for delivering quality work.
- NNIP also provides an opportunity to learn about interesting data projects in other communities. Our peers in Boston have been trying to get a handle on their local ride-sharing industry. After unsuccessful attempts to acquire data from the ride-sharing firms, our partner recruited drivers to collect data by distributing surveys to their riders. Through this research, they learned that forty percent of ride share customers would have otherwise taken transit, and our NNIP partner estimated that each ride-sharing trip diverts about 35 cents of potential revenue from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Policymakers are now using data from the survey to develop a strategy for managing the ride sharing industry and its effect on other transportation systems.
- More communities are starting to think about their role with Census 2020 outreach efforts. Thanks to the leadership of our local elected officials and our nonprofit and foundation community, we seem to be starting this work much earlier than many of our peers around the U.S. We’re a member of our local Complete Count Committee, and shared our thoughts with our peers about the kinds of roles they can play in supporting Census 2020 outreach efforts.
This was my first-ever trip to Los Angeles. In a place this big, three days is only enough time to scratch the surface of what the city is like. It was nice to be able to visit the beach in October and not be cold, but by far the best thing I did was visit the Pinata District on the edge of Downtown LA. Just imagine a slightly smaller version of Pittsburgh’s Strip District market. Instead of wholesalers selling cheese, meat, coffee, baked goods, produce, and yinzer apparel, the Pinata District only seemed to sell colorful pinatas, candy, and party supplies – some stores even advertised custom pinata manufacturing. It was fantastic to see so many different types of pinatas, including a pig, turkey, dinosaur, skeletons, ghost, president, cactus, shark, donkeys, and a duck. If anyone’s going to Los Angeles, I’d highly recommend the Pinata District experience – FYI you can take a pinata through airport security.