Cross-sector collaboration links data to the communities it can help

blogimage_dataintermediaryData gathered by government agencies is often rich with insights into potential challenges faced by communities. Sometimes community organizations need a bridge to assist them in accessing and utilizing government-gathered data in new ways for the common good. For example, the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) was formed in 2000 to help community organizations use data already being produced by local government — crime reports, property records, and vital statistics, for example — to strengthen Baltimore neighborhoods.

“These activities are possible because of local intermediaries, groups that bridge the gap between data and local stakeholders: nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, and residents.”

As a local data intermediary, BNIA bridges data sharing between government agencies and local non-profits, allowing non-profits to make more informed policy recommendations for neighborhood revitalization — including increasing the use of housing vouchers to decrease unemployment, for example. BNIA is able to “harness neighborhood data to make underserved people and unresolved issues visible,” a recent Next City editorial reports. “These activities are possible because of local intermediaries, groups that bridge the gap between data and local stakeholders: nonprofits, government agencies, foundations and residents.”

BNIA is supported by the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a peer-learning network of local organizations that share a mission to improve low-income neighborhoods by empowering local stakeholders to use data in planning, policymaking, and community building. NNIP, which is supported by the Urban Institute, recently published a Guide to Starting a Local Data IntermediaryThe guide discusses the role of a local data intermediary, the process for identifying a home for the intermediary, and how to approach its initial fundraising and activities.

The practice of connecting data across sectors speaks to a tool from The Intersector Project Toolkit, Commit to Information Sharing. Sharing data relevant to multiple sectors’ work gives collaboration partners a more comprehensive understanding of an issue and builds trust among partners and in the collaborative process. For example, a non-profit working to improve the academic outcomes of foster children, FosterEd, sought to address the challenges that foster children face by enhancing coordination among the individuals and agencies that serve them. FosterEd worked with Sundaram LLC to develop an educational case management system that stakeholders use to track the educational strengths and needs of individual foster children, enhancing understanding among the professionals working with the children and reducing duplication of services.

Sharing data among partners also enables tracking student demographics and educational attainment, which helps organizations allocate staff resources and train staff appropriately. Critically, the web interface of the case management system brought these agencies and institutions into greater communication with each other and ensured collective ownership of students’ educational plans. To read more about this cross-sector collaboration, see the full case study in The Intersector Case Library, Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Children in Marion County.