Reflections on the 2014 CIC Impact Summit: Using Honest Data to Inspire and Support Progress

The theme of 2014 Community Indicators Consortium Impact Summit, hosted in Washington, D.C., was “Data-Stories-Impact: Translating Indicators into Action.” What data are sufficient indicators to measure the well-being of our community? How do we present these indicators to engage the community and inspire action? What do we do with the data once we have it? What should we present?

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute gave the keynote speech “Seeing the Dream: Social Mobility, Social Indicators, and Data.” Certain statements stood out as particularly important in this speech. The first is that we should present honest data. He claims that there is no such thing as a “neutral social science” but there is an “honest social science.” Everyone has a point of view concerning various topics such as transportation or the unemployment rate. Let’s choose the unemployment rate for this example. Reeves stated that when analyzing a graph with a flat line, one could interchangeably describe the horizontal line as “flat, stagnant, or stable.” While both “stagnant” and “stable” honestly describe a flat line, they are not neutral phrases. There is no such thing as a neutral social science given our individual perceptions of a just society, but it is important that we present the data honestly. Thus, in describing the same unemployment data as stagnant or stable, the author allocates a certain value towards the unemployment rate.

The second important topic addressed in the keynote speech is how we choose indicators. Do the indicators we choose actually predict what we are trying to measure? For example, will following student test scores indicate a student’s academic success? Reeves suggests that, in the process of deciding leading indicators, research should be conducted to identify whether or not they sufficiently indicate the overarching topic. Many presenters discussed choosing strong indicators that captured what you were trying to measure as opposed to gathering too many indicators which could lead to losing attention of readers (politicians, community leaders, community members, etc.). An example, presented by Emily Pacetti of The Fund for Our Economic Future, concerned the use of job growth as an indicator of the communities economic health. Job growth alone does not illustrate economic health, as illustrated by communities with high levels of job growth as well as high levels of disparities. This suggests we have to also pay attention to the quality of the jobs.

The third important topic concerning what should be presented is embodied in the statement “you aren’t saying anything until you say something a reasonable person can disagree with.” He presents his own interests in the topic of intergenerational mobility as an example stating that while recognizing the existence of the unequal income distribution may be more universally accepted, championing for more equitable relative mobility may be more controversial or debatable.

Separate from the keynote speech, another thing to consider when choosing data is the power of disaggregated data. In the session titled “Black Male Achievement” a discussion took place concerning data disaggregated by race and gender. An individual in the audience raised concern about the disaggregation of data leading to members of the community feeling less obligated to address the issue because the lack of identification with the impacted group grants people the opportunity to say “it’s not my problem.” Two very important ideas came from this point of discussion: (1) Your community cannot claim success or reach the top if it ignores the struggles of the marginalized groups and (2) if people respond by stating “it’s not my problem,” your community has another issue that needs to be addressed.

How should we present it?

How do we present data to grasp people’s attention? The opening speaker of the conference, Schwabish, spoke on how to present data in a PowerPoint presentation. Three key points in this presentation were to do the following: show data, reduce clutter, and integrate the graphics with the text. Something that was echoed throughout the conference was to design it to grasp attention and to keep it simple in order to effectively communicate the idea and hold people’s attention! To grasp attention, people could use infographics, videos, or creative e-blasts. (Interested in the power of infographics in presenting data in a non-intimidating way? Check out this infographic from bestmswprograms.com on suburban poverty!) In a session on storytelling, an individual from Pittsburg suggested catching people’s attention through displaying data in themed E-blasts such as “10 Reasons to be Thankful for Living in Pittsburg,” and “Has Pittsburg been Naughty or Nice.” Referring again to the work of Richard Reeves, one way is to make a video simplifying what otherwise could be viewed as a complex topic: see "Is America Dreaming?: Understanding Social Mobility."

A group of presenters from The Center for Community Solutions gave multiple points of advice as to how to present data. One was to make a webpage for each indicator. This would keep a clean, accessible, and simple presentation of each indicator. Second is to link a social event to the indicators. This brings immediate importance to the indicator, helping people connect your research to daily life. Third is to market the data, not the initiative. Make sure people know what you’re discussing. Finally, make a large scale mailing to big players! Get the information out to the decision makers who need to know about this information.

Then what?

Finally, the conference covered what to do once the data is in the hands to of the public. In “The Community is Changing-Are We Ready?” Kevin Paris discussed having community conversations around data. To engage around SCOPE’s 2014 Community Report Card for Sarasota County, we’re taking this data about Sarasota County on the road! We wish to engage the community in community conversations surrounding the data we collected for the report card. What’s in the report card? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you! Check it out on our website under “New Release!” on our home page at scopexcel.org! Have questions regarding the report card or the community conversations? Feel free to email me at elapeyrolerie@scopexcel.org or comment below. We hope to engage you during one of our many community conversations around the report card so that we can use this honest data to inspire and support progress within our community.