This book is a response to the explosive interest in and availability of data, especially for improving America’s communities. It is designed to be useful to practitioners, policymakers, funders, and the data intermediaries and other technical experts who help transform all types of data into useful information. Some of the essays—which draw on experts from community development, population health, education, finance, law, and information systems—address high-level systems-change work. Others are immensely practical, and come close to explaining “how to.” All discuss the incredibly exciting opportunities and challenges that our ever-increasing ability to access and analyze data provide.
As the book’s editors, we of course believe everyone interested in improving outcomes for low-income communities would benefit from reading every essay. But we’re also realists, and know the demands of the day-to-day work of advancing opportunity and promoting well-being for disadvantaged populations. With that in mind, we are providing this roadmap to enable readers with different needs to start with the essays most likely to be of interest to them.
For everyone, but especially those who are relatively new to understanding the promise of today’s data for communities, the opening essay is a useful summary and primer. Similarly, the final essay provides both a synthesis of the book’s primary themes and a focus on the systems challenges ahead.
Section 2, Transforming Data into Policy-Relevant Information (Data for Policy), offers a glimpse into the array of data tools and approaches that advocates, planners, investors, developers and others are currently using to inform and shape local and regional processes.
Section 3, Enhancing Data Access and Transparency (Access and Transparency), should catch the eye of those whose interests are in expanding the range of data that is commonly within reach and finding ways to link data across multiple policy and program domains, all while ensuring that privacy and security are respected.
Section 4, Strengthening the Validity and Use of Data (Strengthening Validity), will be particularly provocative for those concerned about building the capacity of practitioners and policymakers to employ appropriate data for understanding and shaping community change.
The essays in section 5, Adopting More Strategic Practices (Strategic Practices), examine the roles that practitioners, funders, and policymakers all have in improving the ways we capture the multi-faceted nature of community change, communicate about the outcomes and value of our work, and influence policy at the national level.
There are of course interconnections among the essays in each section. We hope that wherever you start reading, you’ll be inspired to dig deeper into the book’s enormous richness, and will join us in an ongoing conversation about how to employ the ideas in this volume to advance policy and practice.