Community Data Infrastructure

Community Data Infrastructure

Funders often ask for data from grantees – data to document the need for their program or organization
and data to demonstrate the impact of their work. Funders also base their own decisions on strategy or
allocation of resources on community level data, such as rates of poverty, high school completion,
diabetes, unemployment, and more.

But funders in the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy and others at work in the social sector
acknowledge that such data is often lacking and usually is not integrated in any meaningful way.

Motivated by a shared vision for more inclusive growth in Greenville and by shared concerns about the
lack of quality integrated community data, a group of leaders have been in early stage discussion about
how Greenville might develop a community data system that can serve social, private, and public sector
interests. GPP members attended one session of a two-day workshop hosted by Openfields and
Greenville’s Network for Southern Economic Mobility, led by Asemio, a community data architecture

The discussion was framed around the idea of a community data ecosystem, which like the biological
community of interacting organisms and their physical environment, describes a complex network or
interconnected system. Asemio representatives pointed out that in a data ecosystem, there are
different points of view – such as that of a payer, a service provider, person. There are also levels of
work, including the community as a whole, individual sectors (like criminal justice, education, or health
care), and providers within those sectors. Then there are areas of advancement of the ecosystem, such
as culture (e.g. community vision, cooperation, and trust), governance (such as policy, privacy, and
security), and infrastructure (including knowledge management and technology).

Asemio representatives Aaron Bean, Jessica England, and Joani Dotson presented four models of
integrated data systems from elsewhere in the nation. They recognized that while there is no linear
roadmap to developing a community integrated data system, there are elements that strengthen them
and their likelihood of success. These include a shared community vision, executive support, a
governance process (what gets included? How are decisions made?), data-sharing agreements,
technology infrastructure, and sustainable funding.

Grady Powell with Openfields pointed out that considering how to integrate data is important because it
helps attract more funding from national and federal funders, it allows us to have informed
conversations on overarching issues, and it positions us to prepare for and respond to opportunities.

One example shared by Aaron Bean came from New York City where Mayor de Blasio championed a Pre-K for All initiative to allow every child in the city to attend free pre-kindergarten. But the timeline for
implementation was short. Fortunately, they had already developed an integrated data system on all
children who received services in the area, so they could easily plan for how many children would
attend, where they lived (and thus where physical capacity for students was needed), and what their
needs might be. The data allowed all partners to quickly orient and buy into the goal to the degree that
the NYC fire chief stated that his number one goal was getting children into pre-K – because he was
charged with ensuring the numerous facilities met the fire codes.

As community partners start down the path to an integrated data system, they often believe they have a
simple question, like “We just want to know how many families are being served with our funding?” But
Aaron and his colleagues have found that these questions have many layers.

Who owns the data that can answer the question? Will the owners share it with each other? What permissions are needed to do so? What technology is needed to integrate it? Who will operate that technology? Aaron says that this experience reveals that technology is a Trojan horse for change. The difficult work needed to establish the technology often has less to do with technology than it does with trust and relationships.

Meeting participants mentioned several projects in Greenville County that have begun to explore the
integration of data.

  • OnTrack Greenville gives multiple partners access to student data through a student data
    system and Early Warning and Response Teams in four middle schools, and its evaluation
    methods bring together data from GC Source, the GHS School Based Health Centers, and more
    through carefully developed data-sharing agreements.
  • The United Way of Greenville County has led an effort to develop an integrated data system that
    brings client-level data from 19 agencies into one database to better understand how clients are
    accessing multiple services and with what result.
  • Furman University assessed the data systems of 15 partners in the Greenville Homeless Alliance
    to understand how client records were stored and analyzed to determine where data sharing
    could begin.
  • Piedmont Health Foundation has collected one month’s worth of ridership data from five
    transportation providers or funders, and Furman University is mapping all of these rides to
    determine where overlap and gaps in service exist.
  • The Greenville Chamber, Greenville Area Development Corporation, Appalachian Council of
    Governments and SC Works convened in April to form the WDC to collect and analyze data to
    examine barriers to workforce participation and opportunities to enhance participation. The
    first phase of data collection began on Monday, May 14, 2018 with a transportation-focused
    survey being distributed to employers and employees in the downtown area (29601).

These are just a few of the many examples that likely exist of where data sharing and integrated data
analysis have occurred in Greenville County. How can we learn from previous efforts locally and
throughout the nation to further develop our local ecosystem?

These conversations will continue through the Network for Southern Economic Mobility and others to
ensure that we are maximizing our current work and positioning ourselves to seize on opportunities in
the future.