Community Data 2.0: Help reboot Sarasota's future

The following editorial was published today in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Community Data 2.0:  Help reboot Sarasota's future


Guest Columnists

Read the paper, listen to the coffee-shop buzz, or chat with someone in Five Points Park, and you will notice that people are always pitching new ideas about how to make this community an even better place.

Sounds good, but who really knows if any of it will make a difference? How can we tell what's actually going on around here?

It's a matter of community data.

Tom Kelly of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a leading scholar in the field of community change processes, recently said that community data efforts, "implemented well and practiced intentionally, can be the most critical ingredient of transformative community change."

Yet when most people hear about community data, the response tends to be one of boredom ("Bean-counting -how tedious"), dread ("Now whom do we need to convince of our worthiness for continued funding?") or general disconnect ("Data? I never was much good at math.")

Think again.

Community data can be myth-busting, compassion-inducing and discovery-generating. And coming together around community data can be stimulating, courageous and growth-inducing for all - both as individuals, and as a whole community.

Lest we sound like romanticizing data wonks, consider this: We are not the first of our kind.

A decade ago, people of Sarasota County set out together and became one of the "pioneer communities" in the United States working to better understand itself through a comprehensive set of community indicators.

Through annual "Community Report Cards," everyone in Sarasota County could track changes in our demographics and various aspects of community life.

Soon there were other community data efforts, too - the CHIP Health Scorecard, the Community Alliance Measures, and the Economic Development Corporation Fast Facts, to name a few. A growing number of ways to spot-check changes occurring in the overall well-being of our community.

And as the community started noticing things about itself, it began taking action in response to its particularities. Things like:

nWe've got people traveling more miles each day on public roads. Let's streamline that! Hence, the automated transit system.

nWe've got a disproportionate number of black babies dying within their first year of life around here. Let's eliminate that! Hence, initiatives of the Healthy Start Coalition.

nWe've got a lot of environmental improvements occurring around here. Let's attract people with that! Hence, the Green Map.

nWe've got a lot of older adults around here. Let's capitalize on that! Hence, the Institute for the Ages.

It isn't just a matter of community data for data's sake, but rather community data for community change.

Challenges remain, though.

A variety of community data efforts have emerged throughout Sarasota County, but at this point they tend to focus on annual measurements of the county as a whole, which typically are not frequent or "granular" enough to detect meaningful changes as they occur in the local community.

Data efforts are not yet fully open and accessible, either. If "information is power," then it is crucial for community data to be available not only to those whose professional roles warrant access, but also to all of us as everyday citizens participating in our local community in a diversity of ways.

Otherwise, despite the best of intentions, we are unlikely to birth spectacular innovations, and we are destined to keep reinforcing the same old power dynamics, inequities and suffering that have been with us for so long.

This brings us to "Community Data 2.0: A Community-Wide Re-booting."

On May 19, the community will convene as citizens, neighbors, professionals and leaders for "Community Data 2.0." The group SCOPE will facilitate. Participants will begin a process of redefining desired community outcomes and refreshing community indicators.

We will explore the possibility of creating a Sarasota County Community Data Collaborative. A Data Collaborative refers to an ambitious collaboration between citizens and agencies across sectors (such as health care, education, justice and economic development) and across scales (from neighborhood to community to city to county), to share data for real-time decision-making and action.

Everyone is welcome and, as we now know from science and common sense, the greater the diversity among participants, the more likely we are to generate ideas and action with the potential to bring about significant community change. So sign up, and spread the word to people unlike yourself!

We hope you will join in. Let's be the change we want not just to see but to experience - personally and collectively - in Sarasota County.


Lisl Liang, president and co-founder of SRQ Media Group, is a SCOPE board member. Allison Pinto of Sarasota leads data- and neighborhood-focused initiatives at SCOPE.