Guest Post: Community data at the heart of community change

Guest Post: Community data at the heart of community change

Posted on December 19, 2012 by Colleen McGue

I was thrilled when The Patterson Foundation offered me the opportunity to head to Alexandria, VA and represent SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence) at the Harwood Institute Public Innovators Lab. As a community engagement professional, learning new techniques and honing my engagement skills is crucial to my work.

During the lab, we learned about the importance of “turning outward” toward the community to understand our community’s aspirations and rhythms. Turning outward means leading by listening. It means meaningful engagement with the community rather than just outreach. And it means making decisions with the community rather than for the community.

While the idea of meaningful community engagement is not necessarily new to Sarasota County, Harwood presents a new model for this: one that emphasizes the importance of authority, authenticity, and accountability in community leaders.

Community Data is at the heart of this model.

When we talk about Community Data, we mean more than simply the total number of residents age 65 and older in the community or the number of third grade students who had an above average score on the FCAT. We are talking about people’s aspirations, stories and realities.

Knowing this information about our community gives our residents and leaders the authority to make good, informed decisions about the community. Being authentic to the community means listening to this community data and using it for better decision-making. Finally, continued reflection on community data means being accountable to community residents.

We’ve been collecting and sharing community data about Sarasota County for years: People Count Reports, Study Group Reports and Community Report Cards are some examples of this. Most recently, SCOPE has served as facilitator of the development of the Community Data Collaborative, a growing network of citizens, community organizations, governmental organizations, geospatial analysts and self-described “data geeks.”

The Collaborative is working to develop a regularly updated, user-friendly, neighbor-centric online community data platform. Accessible to everyone in our community, this platform will facilitate informed decision-making and action for residents and professionals across sectors in Sarasota County.

After spending time in the lab, I am feeling more hopeful than ever about our community’s willingness to collaborate and use community data for positive community change.

For more information about SCOPE and its work in the community, contact Colleen McGue -

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