Local Innovation: Creating an Online Community Data Platform

Recently, Bob Richardson submitted a letter to SRQ Daily, an online magazine, suggesting Community Report Cards for the local community – that letter can be accessed here.  SCOPE submitted a response, which was published several days later and can be accessed here.  The “unabridged” version of the response is posted here on the SCOPE blog.  It provides details about the rationale for the Community Data Collaborative that has formed in Sarasota County, and efforts now underway to create an online community data platform. 


Bob Richardson recently suggested Community Report Cards as an alternative to data factoids.  Actually, the community of Sarasota County was ahead of the curve over a decade ago in this regard.  In 2001 this community started generating exactly the kind of Community Report Card to which Mr. Richardson is referring.  These Report Cards were published by SCOPE and have included over 150 indicators of community well-being across a variety of domains.  Targeted report cards also have been generated by various local agencies about particular dimensions of well-being (e.g. health, economics). 

What many have discovered (in this community and elsewhere) is that the data included in traditional community report cards are too general and infrequent to well-inform local community decision-making.   Most indicators have been tracked at the whole-county scale, which makes it possible to compare the county to other counties in the state or country, but does not clarify within-county patterns.  Data points tend to be reported annually, which makes it possible to track trends over decades, but is not very helpful in trying to navigate local community change in more real-time ways. 

Furthermore, data typically are organized according to the boundary systems of professionals (e.g. zip codes, police precincts, school attendance zones), rather than by neighborhood boundaries.  As such, the data are not as relevant to how we live in relation to one another as fellow community members. 

Even when SCOPE adapted the format of the local Community Report Cards in 2008 and 2010 to make the information more user-friendly, this was not enough to address the limitations identified above.  A "reboot" of the overall process was required. 

Currently, people from various local neighborhoods and institutions are coming together on a regular basis as a Community Data Collaborative.  This includes neighbors from North Port, Sarasota, and other areas throughout the county, and institutions including the school district, health and human services, housing, economic development, environmental services, the sheriff's department, city and county government, and the media.  SCOPE is facilitating the development of this collaborative. 

We are all working together to create an online community data platform tailored to Sarasota County.  It will use GIS mapping and it will be neighborhood-centric, with data available at the neighborhood block scale as much as possible.  Information will include not only demographics, traditional community indicators, and performance data about available programs and services, but also a diversity of assets and neighbor-generated pictures, stories and videos.  It will be updated "real-time" or as frequently as data are gathered. 

This online platform will be designed to enable any of us as residents to bring our own neighborhood into focus, so that we are equipped with meaningful information to inspire resident-led community change.  It will also be possible to "zoom out" and consider a neighborhood relative to surrounding neighborhoods, the whole city, the whole county, and beyond.  In-person and online opportunities for ongoing reflection and analysis will exist as well.  If anyone is interested in a traditional community report card, it will still be possible for these to be generated too. 

Currently our community is a finalist in the Knight Community Information Challenge, a national competition, because of these innovative efforts.  

The next monthly meeting of the Community Data Collaborative will be on Monday, April 9 at 11:00 a.m. Please contact Dr. Allison Pinto at apinto@scopexcel.org or 941.365.8751 for further details if you are interested in getting involved.