Reflections on the May, 2017 National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership Meeting in Baltimore


by Bob Gradeck

May 25, 2017


Last week, three members of our team (Liz Monk, Steve Saylor, and Bob Gradeck) travelled to Baltimore, Maryland for the Spring, 2017 partner meeting of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). NNIP is a network of practice for community data intermediaries managed by the Urban Institute. NNIP partners in over 30 cities collect and transform neighborhood data, promote the use of data, and use information to improve the lives of people in marginalized communities. As always, the team at the Urban Institute seamlessly organized the meeting, and our hosts in Baltimore at the Baltimore neighborhood Indicators Alliance did a first-rate job in welcoming us to their city.

This year, NNIP launched two awards to celebrate the work of two partners in the network. Congratulations are due the Center for Urban Affairs at the University of Minnesota for winning the G. Thomas Kingsley Impact Award. The Center, working with the East Side Neighborhood Development Company in St. Paul uncovered inequitable spending patterns in the City’s eastern neighborhoods. As a result of the Center’s analysis, City Council passed a resolution stipulating that future capital allocations must be made in an equitable fashion. Data Driven Detroit’s Erica Raleigh took home the inaugural Network Steward of the Year Award for her contributions to the work of NNIP and partners in other cities.

The network is also growing and our newest partners from Philadelphia, Houston, and Los Angeles were officially welcomed to NNIP. We’re especially excited to have Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative join us as a partner, providing us with opportunities for cross-Commonwealth collaboration and learning opportunities for working with health data experts. We’ll be in Philadelphia to take part in their 2017 symposium “Reimagining Health in Cities” this September. You should come, too.

On a bittersweet note, longtime Urban Institute Research Assistant and Pitt Graduate Maia Woluchem announced that she’s leaving for graduate school in Massachusetts. We’ll miss seeing her at the meetings, but we’re sure she’ll do just fine without us.  

Here are a few observations and takeaways from members of our team.

Liz Monk

As always, I am in awe of the collective knowledge and skills of the NNIP network…

  • The unconference was a great opportunity to connect with other cities doing trainings.  The session challenged me to think about effectively using the “train the trainer” model and  I’m excited to follow up with new partner in Philadelphia about their work in this area.   NNIP director Kathy Pettit and Elizabeth Grossman of Microsoft teased us with the training resources that will be released in June- including a catalogue of over 20 trainings plus materials that local trainers have shared.  The public libraries unconference session was another great opportunity to find out how other cities are working with their public libraries and to think about future partnerships.
  • I was impressed (and jealous) of The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance – Jacob France Institute’s (BNIA-JFR) Geoloom Co>Map project – an online mapping tool that collects and analyzes arts and culture data in a common centralized measurement system.   The dedication to arts indicators, the many partnerships, and the effort spent gathering community input that went into this project left me with a renewed interest to dig back into our arts indicators and think about how we can work with our partners to make arts indicators a priority as we update our SWPA Community Profiles.
  • The NNIP buddy system is a way to help new folks connect to the network by having them paired with a staff of a partner organization that has been to previous meetings.  It is always an honor to be a buddy at these meetings – I very much enjoy the excuse to force somebody to be my friend.   One thing I value about this network is the opportunity to build genuine relationships that provide support navigating similar work.  

Steve Saylor

This was my first time at an NNIP conference and I was excited to meet everyone there and see what I could learn from other partners…

  • Being my first of these conferences, I spent a lot of time getting to know everyone there that I could. I was surprised by the diversity in expertise that I found talking to everyone. While the presentations and panel discussions were informative, I almost learned as much, if not more, from just asking folks about what problems they’re trying to solve in their community. With all that being said, I think my favorite person I met while in Baltimore was Mr. Trash Wheel. For those unfamiliar with his work, he and his colleague, Professor Trash Wheel, collect debris before it makes its way into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
  • On the last day of the conference, I gave a short “ignite” presentation on how we’ve worked with Data User Groups to develop tools for data users. This was not only a great way to communicate our work to our NNIP partners, but it also worked as a great launching point for people to get to know me as a new attendee. Following the presentation, there was some interest from partners in other cities in making our tools easy to use in new locations and with other data platforms.  These conversations, in turn, have inspired me to focus more on the reusability of our upcoming tools as well as reworking our current ones so they can be easily adopted elsewhere.

Bob Gradeck

I drove the car to and from the meeting. I’m no speed demon, but everyone in Maryland seemed to enjoy driving 55 MPH on I-70 in the passing lane. Is this a thing, or was someone just out to frustrate me?

  • On Tuesday, there was a special half-day meeting to delve into the operations of Integrated Data Systems (IDS) for cities looking to improve communities by linking client and participant data from many different public agencies. Here in Allegheny County, the Department of Human Services is viewed as a leader in managing and using integrated data to drive informed policy-making, service delivery, and inter-agency coordination. Brian Bell from the Department was able to join the meeting and share Allegheny County’s expertise with cities looking to strengthen their IDS capacity. I learned a lot about the inner workings of IDS systems by attending the meeting, and gained ideas for making our work more relevant to human service agencies.
  • Sarah Morgan of Allegheny County’s CountyStat department also attended the meeting to  share more about the collaboration happening with the Allegheny County Health Department around the Data Across Sectors for Health project sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In addition to convening key stakeholders, the County released a ton of open data related to cardiovascular disease, developed data guides, and is using modeling to determine which interventions can effectively reduce cardiovascular disease in the county.
  • A few years ago in our Columbus Ohio meeting, NNIP began to incorporate participant designed and led unconference “camp” sessions into the agenda. These sessions are a great way to break up the meeting into smaller group activities and conversations. This meeting seemed to have the best set of sessions of any partner meeting since. I attended a very helpful session to discuss business models with other partners, and I hope the “airing of grievances” session becomes a tradition. This session (originally suggested as a joke) actually gave partners a safe space to share things that they find both challenging and annoying about their work. This discussion served as an informal support group and a great lead-in to Thursday’s happy hour on the roof of the hotel. We also learned that many people claim our conference hotel was haunted.
  • We had a very informative session related to plans for the 2020 decennial Census. In a presentation by demographer Bill O’Hare, we learned about the populations that are most-difficult to count, including families with children under age 5. The impact of undercounts can especially harm these communities, resulting in reduced political influence and decreased funding from several federal programs. Following the presentation, staff from the Census Bureau were on-hand to lead a user-centered design session to generate ideas for reaching these hard to reach populations. We hope to have representatives from the Census on-hand to join us for Data Day on October, 21 2017, and we’d like to engage local residents and stakeholders following the event to capture their ideas for reaching out to hard to count populations in our community.

This October, we’ll meet again in Indianapolis, where we hope to learn what a Hoosier is.