Reflections on the September, 2016 National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership Meeting in Cleveland

by Bob Gradeck

September 27, 2016

Here’s my recap of the fall partner meeting of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) in Cleveland. As always, the staff at the Urban Institute and our NNIP partner in Cleveland did a first-rate job in organizing the meeting and providing us with an outstanding experience.

Happy Birthday, NNIP

Since 2008, We’ve been a member of NNIP. At that time, NNIP had been in existence for 12 years. This year at the fall partner meeting in Cleveland, NNIP celebrated its 20th anniversary. NNIP is a community of over 30 neighborhood data intermediaries in the U.S. The anniversary gave partners and friends the chance to reflect on what NNIP has meant to us in our work, and thank the Urban Institute’s team, especially Tom Kingsley for his support and leadership through NNIP’s first two decades. Without Tom, NNIP would clearly not be what it is today, and everyone in the network is indebted to him for his stewardship. We all wish Tom had been able to join us in person.

NNIP matters tremendously to me in my work. Over the past eight years, I have gotten to know many wonderful people doing important work at our partner meetings. It’s not just an online network where we offer to help one another – it’s also a place where I feel as if I’m part of a community, can make a contribution to other participants, and play a role in advancing the field.  I also find the peer to peer connections a way to steal, develop, and test ideas, connect with national conversations, and be part of a support group for people who can’t seem to explain their job as a “data intermediary” to relatives at Thanksgiving dinner.

Data 101 Pre Session

Thanks to a partnership between NNIP and Microsoft’s Technology and Civic Engagement Group, we had the opportunity to share the “Finding Stories in Data Workshop” with people from other Cities. Pittsburgh was one of four cities to present at this pre-meeting event. The “Finding Stories” workshop is one of the most-popular Data 101 trainings we developed in collaboration with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Data 101 is an introductory data workshop series designed for people looking to get started on their journey toward data literacy.  We were fortunate to be joined by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Eleanor Tutt (also an NNIP alumni). I met Eleanor at my first NNIP meeting in Baltimore in 2008 while she was working for the St. Louis NNIP partner, and we’re delighted to be working with her here in Pittsburgh.

It was interesting to give our peers a hands-on look at our work at this workshop.. We provided an opportunity for attendees to first be a Data 101 participant before helping them develop their own Data 101 content in their home cities. Even though the data in the demonstration was from Pittsburgh, participants really got into the activity, working together to find stories in the data. While we had a lot of veteran data storytellers in the room, the workshop really looked much like the first one we held at the Carnegie Library back in June. It also reinforced our theory that paper allows for communication and enables everyone to participate on an equal playing field regardless of their expertise.

The experience of sharing the workshop also helped us better-understand how to teach others how to conduct Data 101 workshops. We are working to train librarians (at the Carnegie Library and Allegheny County Library Association) and other partners at the City and County how to conduct Data 101 workshops to advance data literacy within their communities and organizations. The NNIP workshop also provided us with the incentive to begin the development of a Data 101 toolkit. The toolkit will allow us to train others to adopt and implement data literacy training in new communities.

Open Data

NNIP also revisited the topic of open data at the partner meeting. There have been many recent conversations about open data in Northeast Ohio, and it was good to see many local stakeholders in the room for our session. I was invited to present along with NNIP partner Seema Iyer from Baltimore, and Joy Bonaguro, Chief Data Officer (and NNIP alumnus) at the City of San Francisco in a session moderated by Laura Meixell, our partner at the City of Pittsburgh.    

My talk focused on 12 things data intermediaries can do to support open data in their community. Joy’s presentation (as usual) stole the show, as she outlined many of the data management challenges/horrors faced by open data publishers, and bemoaned the lack of an NNIP data intermediary in San Francisco. It was great to learn that NNIP partners like Seema in Baltimore are playing a more active and direct role in their City’s open data initiative. The slides from Joy and Seema are available on the NNIP Website. While at the meeting, I began talking with Erica Raleigh from Data Driven Detroit, who are also exploring a collaborative open data model, and we agreed to communicate regularly as we develop a long-term sustainable model for our projects.

Please let me know if you have any questions about anything related to NNIP, the partner meeting, or Data 101. I am already looking forward to the next NNIP meeting in the spring.