DataSpark Does Dallas

October 27, 2015 12:51 pm

Last week DataSpark staffers Joel Stewart and Megan Swindal headed West—to Dallas, where the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) held its biannual meeting for partner organizations. NNIP is a network of locally-based organizations that use neighborhood-level information systems for community building and local decision-making; the Urban Institute, in Washington DC, is the “headquarters” for NNIP.

Currently there are partner groups from 35 cities that run the gamut in size, geographic location, and urban issues. Some partners are research institutes affiliated with universities (like the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute or the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Public Policy); some are service providers that also collect and use neighborhood-level data (such as Milwaukee’s IMPACT), and many are—like us—their city or state’s main site for the repository and analysis of community data.

We relished the opportunity to share ideas, discuss different tools for data analysis, and generally “nerd out” about using data to help communities! The NNIP format generally follows the “unconference” model favored by programmers and hackers, with participant-driven sessions that meet to learn about a particular topic through open discussion, demonstration and participation. Some of the highlights from our trip were:

  • A panel discussion about helping local police agencies put their data to work to reduce bias and improve crime targeting
  • An unconference session where partners shared tips and rationales for using different types of data visualization software
  • A table talk session where small groups brainstormed about ways to collect data on investment flows within neighborhoods and whether they were impacting residents inequitably

NNIP partners are a passionate but unceremonious bunch, so we greatly enjoyed our informal conversations over lunch, dinner, and bar games too.

We came away from the tip with pocketsful of useful information and ideas to start applying to our own work in Rhode Island. Critically, we also recognized how important the NNIP network is not only for knowledge sharing, but for connecting the various local efforts to the bigger project of building a national culture and infrastructure for data-driven decision-making.