In January 2014, the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty sparked a round of animated debate about the impact of efforts to meet the basic needs of Americans and to support economic mobility.[1] As is often the case, the numbers support multiple, complicated narratives: The official poverty rate has decreased slightly, from 19 percent to 15 percent, but more than 46.5 million Americans were poor in 2012, more than any point in history.[2] Despite trillions of public and privately funded investments to combat poverty and all of its effects, it persists in the United States at levels that many consider intolerable for a country with such wealth and stature.

For everyone concerned with conditions in and around the metropolitan areas where the vast majority of poor people live, the stubborn correlations between place, race, and poverty are even more unsettling.[3] We want urban neighborhoods to be both anchor and springboard for their residents, but research has shown that chances of advancement, and even survival, are greatly diminished for residents of low-income places.[4] With more than five decades of community development policy and practice behind us, it is unsurprising that the field should be so preoccupied with the question of what works. For nonprofit organizations, foundations and other funders responding to the mounting evidence that poverty and place are connected, but under pressure to demonstrate results from investments in periods even shorter than 50 years, finding better ways to measure progress at neighborhood scale is essential.

While the big-picture goal of community development—to build places that help their residents thrive—has remained remarkably stable over time, the strategies and tactics have evolved. Information has always been an essential factor of production in the community development field, as valuable a resource as money, time, and human capital. Information matters now more than ever, and it is increasingly likely to be the determining factor in the success of both people and organizations. For individuals, access to information is a baseline need for successful participation in society, influencing every aspect of quality of life, from healthcare and housing to employment and education.[5] For organizations, access to information and the ability to use it determines their ability to craft and execute effective solutions, track progress, and advocate for support. To take advantage of the (ever increasing) abundance of information resources, organizations need to become more flexible, agile, and aware.

Understanding what is working in community development—and importantly, how it is working—requires a zoom lens: looking beyond headlines, statistics, and longitudinal studies to the organizations and individuals working in neighborhoods to address specific conditions on the ground. Long-term, large-scale research projects are important for helping us understand the big picture of community change, but only fine-grained, closer-to-real-time information about context and program operations make it possible to adapt to changing conditions on the ground and make the corresponding adjustments to program design and strategy. The complexity of community development efforts creates special challenges for measurement and tracking progress, as has been noted elsewhere in this volume. However, this complexity only increases the importance of having reliable information to help set priorities, refine program strategies, and evaluate what works. There is ample room for improvement.

Many excellent resources address performance management and how to become a learning organization, so I won’t cover that ground here. What I want to emphasize in this essay are two kinds of investments that are undervalued (and hence, with a few notable exceptions, underfunded) in the community development field:

  1. Information infrastructure: the ecosystem of local, state, and national organizations and individuals who produce, analyze, translate, and present information to make it useful and actionable for specific community development purposes; and
  2. Organizational capacity to use information to support the full program lifecycle, from planning and design through implementation and evaluation.

The call for more and better investments in organizations’ capacity to access and use information is certainly not new, but it is one worth repeating and refining until all of us in the social sector absorb it fully into our theories of change and funding strategies. The sector-wide underinvestment in data collection and performance management has been documented for at least a decade, but organizations still say it is nearly impossible to find funding to support these critical systems and functions.[6] Why? The reasons may have more to do with a failure of framing than a failure of the concept itself. As recently stated in an excellent compendium of writings on the use of information in the social sector from Markets for Good, the term information infrastructure doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.[7] This infrastructure is often invisible. There’s no ribbon cutting or grin-and-grab when it’s successfully built, and its failures aren’t spectacular like a bridge collapse, or even a mundane annoyance, like a potholed road. Donors don’t aspire to have their names on databases. Yet the vitality of the social sector—in an age when data talks as much as money does—depends on significant, sustained, conscious investments in information infrastructure if we are to take advantage of the benefits that the explosion of information resources offers to advance the public good.

A simple call for more funding is insufficient. The community development field needs thoughtful, long-term funding strategies that pay attention to the whole universe of available (and unavailable) data to inform program strategies and the evolving array of options available to those seeking to build or buy capacity to use information more effectively. For too long, funders (public and philanthropic alike) have focused on trying to understand the measurable impact of their grant making without making commensurate investments in their grantees’ own capacity to measure. In the turn to focus on outcomes, funders became too narrowly interested in the value of information to demonstrate what happened at the end of an investment. More attention should be paid to how organizations are using information to plan for and advance their work, and to the long-term challenge of building, maintaining, and evolving the tools and capacities that make information actionable.

The imperative for organizations to keep pace with these changes is clear: access to better information at lower cost, the ability to add new information about conditions on the ground to higher-level planning processes (the “little data” Susana Vasquez and Patrick Barry describe in their essay in this volume), and the potential to deploy other scarce resources more effectively to increase benefits to people and their communities. But the roadmap to becoming a more informed community development partner is not clear. It is a crowdsourced map, one that all of us in the field are building as we go.

This remainder of this essay aims to contribute to the map-building project by sharing lessons from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s investments in community development efforts in Chicago and in information infrastructure nationally. Then the discussion turns to observations about what foundations can do to support the evolution of a more informed community development field.

Learning From Experience

The MacArthur Foundation has been supporting place-based community development initiatives in the United States for more than two decades. For the last decade, our community and economic development portfolio has been anchored by two large-scale community development efforts in Chicago: the New Communities Program, a comprehensive community planning and development initiative led by the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC Chicago), and the Plan for Transformation of Chicago’s public housing.

The Foundation also has a long history of supporting information infrastructure for the social sector, both locally and nationally. The guiding assumption is that timely, accurate, and accessible information about the social and economic conditions of cities and regions is an invaluable resource that can lead to more effective programs and policies. This belief in the importance of building robust information ecosystems and capacity to use them has been shaped by investments in Chicago—in historically important players, such as Chapin Hall and the now-defunct Metro Chicago Information Center, and relative newcomers such as the Smart Chicago Collaborative—and in national partners and networks, including the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, Harvard’s Data Smart Cities initiative, the University of Pennsylvania’s Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy network, among others.

Program evaluations of two of the Foundation’s longest-term investments in Chicago—the New Communities Program, the multi-neighborhood comprehensive planning and development initiative, and Opportunity Chicago, the coordinated, multi-stakeholder workforce development initiative that resulted in more than 5,000 public housing residents placed in jobs in 5 years—yielded key insights that helped the Foundation refine its theory of change over time. [8] Although of different scale, scope, and intention, these two initiatives shared important features that are now becoming more common in community development strategies using a “collective impact” framework that includes a focus on both people and places; a reliance on intermediaries to coordinate action among an array of partners; and a need to collect, analyze, and communicate data from a wide variety of sources.

A principal finding of the interim evaluation of the New Communities Program was that the initiative had built critical supporting infrastructure for community development work in Chicago: a network of strong organizations that collectively came to be known as “the platform.” The publication of the now oft-cited article “Collective Impact”[9] advanced another framework to describe the infrastructure needs of the social sector: LISC Chicago and the lead agencies, as well as the Partnership for New Communities, the funder collaborative that oversaw Opportunity Chicago, all acted as “backbone organizations” to undergird complex community change initiatives.

The publication of “Collective Impact” was timely because its framework included an element that was present in Opportunity Chicago but largely absent from the New Communities Program: a strong shared measurement system for the initiative as a whole. The formative evaluation of Opportunity Chicago was starting to suggest that the program design features most critical to Opportunity Chicago’s successes were related to the way information was used to set an agenda, ensure alignment, and track progress. These same features were relevant to the New Communities Program model, but played out in different areas in different ways and across the whole initiative. Where they were in place for components of the New Communities Program agenda—to guide the Centers for Working Families and Elev8 programs, for example—they seemed to be working. But while LISC Chicago was establishing a field standard for high-quality process documentation and internal measurement of their own investments in the platform, the Foundation assessment and external evaluations were not in full alignment or recognizing of the value of this interim outcome.

Reflecting on the successes and challenges of these programs, in the next phase of the New Communities Program, which LISC Chicago calls Testing the Model, LISC Chicago and the Foundation made several specific adjustments in response to these insights. We needed to pay more attention to the value of the process of building the network of organizations and people serving as “the platform.” In addition, the funding strategy needed to include specific support for programs to use information to measure their progress more effectively. These included more support for LISC Chicago’s internal capacity to build systems to use information more effectively and tactical, technical improvements in performance management systems. The Foundation also needed to help the entire network of organizations in the New Communities Program build the level of sophistication of data systems, technology, and organizational process that they needed to successfully perform all of the key functions of a strong community development network: organizing, planning, coordinating and implementing projects, and fundraising. But most importantly, we needed to ensure better alignment of language, expectations, and measurement processes for outcomes—whether intermediate process, outputs, or long-term community change.

In recalibrating the Foundation’s work to follow through on these insights, several lessons have emerged that may be helpful to other funders and those working in partnership with them to improve their communities. They relate to various components of the information ecosystem and lifecycle: crafting useful and sensitive metrics to track progress, supporting organizations in learning to use data at all stages of a program, designing new information systems for community development, and identifying new partners to assist in the work.

Lesson #1: Organizations and funders alike benefit from aligning shared measures of progress that value both process and outcome measures.

What does progress in community development look like? What kind of change, at what scale, and over what time horizon, constitutes sufficient return on investment? These are questions that vex the social sector in general, but as has been noted elsewhere in this volume and by others expert in the evaluation of place-based community development initiatives, their complexity—not only the number of moving parts, people and organizations, but the interrelated nature of the issues being addressed—make them particularly challenging to measure. Establishing shared expectations of what progress looks like, how it will be measured, and at what scale and in what timeframe it will be achieved is critical to the sustained effort that it takes to make change in neighborhoods.

At the outset of the New Communities Program, the Foundation made significant investments in collecting information and evaluating progress. In addition, LISC Chicago established a high bar for documenting its own process and tracking investments in capacity building. But what all of the stakeholders in the New Communities Program—the Foundation, LISC Chicago, its network of lead agencies, the members of the evaluation team—learned is that although we were collectively tracking and measuring many indicators of change, from housing values to crime rates to investment flows, they were not necessarily the right measures, or the sufficient measures to tell the full story. Furthermore, not all of the stakeholders were tracking the same things at the same time. Whereas the Foundation and the evaluation team were both oriented toward tracking changes in conditions at the neighborhood level, LISC Chicago and its partners in the New Communities Program were tracking both process measures and project-level metrics at a different scale—number of participants in Centers for Working Families receiving financial services, units of housing built.

Particularly in a complex initiative such as the New Communities Program, it is essential to have some common metrics, or standards of measurement, that are widely shared and understood among all participants and stakeholders. These metrics are distinct from the indicators of neighborhood change (e.g., income, housing quality, crime) that we expect will track progress and chart the trajectory and health of neighborhoods. These metrics, or “performance indicators,” can track shorter-term goals and help keep all of the actors in a networked initiative, such as the New Communities Program, aligned toward common goals.

In designing new systems for collecting, analyzing, and communicating information, LISC Chicago and its partners wanted to understand a number of dimensions related to both process and outcomes. Although still in development, conversations to date suggest that a system to support complex community development work needs to accommodate:

  • quantitative and qualitative measures of change; project-level data, both inputs (dollars in, resources on the task) and outputs (community gardens planted, murals painted, units of housing developed, people assisted);
  • context-level data, information about neighborhood and individuals that is tracked, mapped, and analyzed in as close-to-real-time as is possible;
  • process or “platform” data, information about how social and organizational networks are growing, the added value of increased organization and connectivity.

Process measures are particularly important and are tied to the difficult task we all have of making the case for infrastructure investments. The lack of clear metrics and a more-than-descriptive framework to document the growth and development of the organizing, planning, and development infrastructure that LISC Chicago and its partners built meant that nobody could say for certain what it was, how it worked, what it was producing, or how it could be improved. But these platform or process outcomes can be measured, albeit not through observable facts about neighborhood conditions such as housing values or crime rates. Although few established measures exist for the short-term growth in “collective efficacy,” “resilience,” or “tensile strength,” it is possible (and less difficult and costly than ever) to track the growth of social and organizational networks. To correct for this, we contracted with the evaluation firm MDRC to conduct a network study that aims to generate insights about the growth of networks and partners that LISC Chicago believes are critical to the platform building that makes community improvement efforts more effective.

Lesson #2: The network of diverse organizations involved in community change efforts often have different levels of existing capacity to use information and different infrastructure needs. All need to be met where they are; the challenge is finding ways to balance the competing demands for simplicity and precision, specificity and standardization.

In the New Communities Program, the spread and diversity of organizational capacity to execute many types of tasks is highly variable. Organizational capacity becomes its own kind of management program and one of the principal reasons that an intermediary organization, such as LISC Chicago, is so critical for successful investment in collaborative initiatives, whether within neighborhoods or among them. When LISC Chicago conducted a scan of technical capacity in its partners, the degree to which each organization understood the needs for information in their day-to-day operations, could identify available data sources and tools for analysis and mapping, and could make an appropriate match between the need and the appropriate source or tool varied considerably. But LISC Chicago also discovered that among all of the groups there was a consistent desire to use information in more effective ways to drive their various activities.

The MacArthur Foundation’s role was to fund the assessment of baseline conditions and capacity, and to meet the organizations wherever they were with flexible support to move forward in a shared direction. The Foundation then helped identify the right external, expert partners to assist with scoping information needs, identifying sources, and developing appropriate systems for ongoing tracking and analysis. The last step was the most difficult, and is still very much a work in progress. Identifying “data intermediaries” with the right blend of issue-specific expertise and ability to translate it effectively to this diverse array of community partners, working in tandem to develop and refine strong theories of change, and communicating effectively through project implementation continues to be a messy, iterative, unscientific process. But the value of such intermediaries­—the cross-trained translators with technological skills and the ability to apply them to a range of community development issues—is clear and increasing. With an evaluation team in place to document the process at work in the New Communities Program, we—LISC Chicago, MDRC, and the Foundation—hope to have more specific lessons to share with the field about what makes for successful technical information partnerships in the near future.

Lesson #3: Good data and information are key inputs for all stages of a successful community development initiative: design, planning, implementation, evaluation, and stage-appropriate information infrastructure is necessary for each—but we don’t have good models or tools at every stage.

We need a widespread organizational culture shift that recognizes information as one of the key building blocks of community development, as essential as money, people, bricks, and mortar. The program design changes in the next phase of the New Communities Program were in many ways only specific, information-centered tweaks to the capacity-building mindset that LISC Chicago was already building among the partners in its network. It became clear that building information capacity was as essential as organizing capacity or fundraising capacity—fundamental and useful for advancing all of the other objectives of community development.

In a complex endeavor such as community change, it is important for everyone involved in the project—from the managing intermediary to funders and evaluators—to share the same broad view of the value of information at all stages of the program life cycle. Because this broad view has been lacking, the field’s technical solutions are more mature for accountability and evaluation purposes than they are for the planning and process aspects of implementation.

LISC Chicago and most organizations like it do not have information systems that are sufficiently sophisticated to manage the complex array of data that its programs generate, or to translate this data efficiently into information that can guide, in real-time, course-corrections and future program decisions. This is true for many nonprofit organizations. LISC Chicago and many others have very strong elements in place. In part, what is needed is a simple, adaptable interface to help pull all of these inputs together and allow them to be visualized and analyzed clearly, and for different audiences. However, in this niche marketplace, finding the right resources to help design and build such a solution can be difficult.

The creation of better data and information systems to support complex community change work is partly a technical challenge. We believe that the right skills, technologies, and inputs exist somewhere (although not necessarily in the community development field), and we only need to find the right resources and broker the right connections to build a solution. However, adaptive challenges are also evident: What does the move toward more data-driven development mean for organizations? For long-term funding? How will these new tools, once developed, be sustained? How will we deal with the challenge of constant evolution and adaptation to new information technologies? These challenges are not unique to the nonprofit sector, but the resource gap and widespread underinvestment in information technologies keep the organizations we rely on to deliver social services, organize resources in neighborhoods, and perform key planning functions in our cities from reaching higher levels of effectiveness and efficiency.

Lesson #4: The rapid evolution of the information landscape demands flexible, core capacity investments that allow organizations to evolve and adapt, in addition to investment in specialized intermediaries that can broker resources and stay abreast of changes.

Since the Foundation’s two major place-based investments began more than a decade ago, the landscape of information consumption and production has changed rapidly and dramatically (although the ends, as far as our ultimate social change objectives are concerned, remain the same). More data—and more tools to turn data into information—are available to community development practitioners and the public than ever before, and all signs suggest that the volume, diversity, and, hopefully, quality will continue to increase. In just the last year, the open data movement in the public sector has gained traction across the country. Many new important data sources for community development purposes—ranging from crime, to public health, to education, to transit—are suddenly free and available to the public as raw material and as building blocks for coders and application developers who know how to analyze and build things with it. The result is an explosion of new possibilities to create low-cost, adaptable, and user-friendly tools to aid community development practitioners in their work.

However, the availability of data does not mean that the data is useful or usable for community development practitioners. Cities and counties are increasingly pledging to make their data openly available, regularly updated, and “developer-friendly,” but this means only that we now have the raw material to build meaningful applications for community development. To harness all of this potential on behalf of our cities and neighborhoods, funders will need to pay attention to the changing information needs of our communities. We will need to provide flexible dollars to meet organizations’ core information needs and to broker better partnerships with the expanding cadre of civic technologists. In addition, we will need to invest in specialized organizations that form the backbone information infrastructure of our cities and regions. These issue specialists must be technology experts with broad reach among issue areas, and they must be able to develop more effective ways to use information for the benefit of the communities we care about.

It is too soon to tell how successful LISC Chicago and its partners will be in their efforts to build better information infrastructure, but the progress to date is encouraging. What is certain is that in a field in which change at scale is complex and progress can feel imperceptible in the short term, these efforts to improve and evolve must be sustained and supported over the long term.

Looking Forward: What Can Funders Do?

Signs already indicate that the challenge of finding new ways to use information is invigorating and, hopefully, attracting more resources and investment from funders and other partners. As LISC Chicago’s essay in this volume notes, it has been encouraging to witness the widespread demand from the diverse group of community development organizations in the New Communities Network for support, the curiosity and eagerness to learn new about new ways of working, and the openness to identifying new partners to support the process.

The MacArthur Foundation is committed to continued support for this critical area of work, encouraged by the progress, and enthusiastic about all there is to learn from its grantees as it continues to search for new ideas for investment. The Foundation has sharpened its focus on specific efforts to strengthen capacity for informed decision making in all of the work it supports. In closing and looking ahead, I offer four suggestions for ways that funders could strengthen information infrastructure for the community development field and build capacity to use it to improve conditions in neighborhoods.

First, we can commit to becoming smarter about the information needs of the nonprofit and public sectors, and make the ongoing process of educating ourselves and our grantees about the ever-changing landscape of data sources, information technologies, and information policies that are available to support social sector activity a routine and expected part of our jobs.

Admittedly, this can feel like a daunting task, but it’s not an unreasonable one. The capacity to use information to support program planning, implementation, performance management, and evaluation in increasingly sophisticated ways cuts across program interests and even funding models: It is simply a fundamental component of a high-performing organization. But engaging in conversations and grant negotiations about data and information technologies requires a baseline level of technical expertise and language to be accessible, and the rapid evolution of tools and players in the space only adds to the challenge. Making an explicit commitment to stay on the learning curve ourselves (and identifying the right people to help) is an important first step that can go a long way toward strengthening our funding strategies. Fortunately, some excellent resources offer ways to think about the role of information in place-based grant making, from the Urban Institute to Living Cities to Stanford Social Innovation Review to Markets for Good, but it is incumbent on all of us to think deeply about how to use this information to strengthen our capacity as funders. The same is true for the organizations we support.

Second, we can embed a focus on the quality of grantee information systems and the ability of grantees to use them in routine due diligence processes. If we peek inside the big black box of “capacity” that we all use as shorthand for many elements of organizational health and effectiveness, many of us would admit we know and ask too little about the way information is used. We are trained to rigorously assess quality of leadership, financial position, and presence of strategy, but it is rare to ask systematic questions about organizations’ ability to access, analyze, interpret, and communicate information outside of the context of a specific project. We need to start asking questions about the invisible information infrastructure that is so often the backbone of any project we support: the software, the technology, and the architecture of the solutions that organizations need to do their work, measure their progress, and communicate the story of their impact. By becoming more specific and precise about the types of questions we ask about information capacity in the due diligence process and throughout a funding relationship, and by establishing a shared commitment to developing a culture of learning and continual improvement, we can be more supportive partners in the complex project of community change. This could include initiating conversations with grantees about how they stay on top of new tools and trends; building low-cost, high-impact opportunities for ongoing professional development (such as LISC Chicago’s excellent “Data Fridays” series) into program funding; and supporting information capacity assessments—including the information technologies and systems that organizations use and the sources of information they rely on—on an ongoing basis.

Third, all of us can become more informed about the information “ecosystems” in the places where we work, and invest in efforts to strengthen them. It is challenging to marshal coordinated information infrastructure investments because most funders are oriented towards specific programmatic objectives, defined by issues like health, education, or climate, rather than the ecosystem as a whole. Generating support for multi-purpose community improvement infrastructure—whether for specific places like LISC Chicago, the Smart Chicago Collaborative, or for the field as a whole, like the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership—can feel like a massive collective action problem, with many benefitting but too few willing to pay. Yet these organizations are the utilities of the community development world, the essential, but too often invisible supporting infrastructure that provides information, capacity, and other important public goods that make the field work.

Place-based funders and community foundations have special responsibility and ability to support efforts to assess the functions and capacities of local information producers and consumers, and efforts to raise community-wide awareness of available information resources, as several cities, most recently Chicago, have begun to do with user conferences known as “data days.”[10] By identifying organizations with expertise with and access to data on specific issues, as well as those with cross-cutting capacity (public libraries, local data intermediaries, or civic technology organizations such as the Smart Chicago Collaborative), local funders can help organize the market for information that supports social good. Such place-based, whole-system focused efforts help reveal gaps where investments in data, access, or skills are needed allow foundations to be better matchmakers between project needs and information resources, and make it easier for community development organizations to identify partners that can help them use information to strengthen their work.

Finally—and most important in our role as funders—it is our job to provide adequate financial support to those that are leading the charge to find ways to use information to do their work better. This means investing directly in community development organizations, their performance management and internal assessment capacities, their ongoing professional development opportunities in this area, and staff who focus on strengthening the use of information in all areas of work. It means supporting the local data intermediaries and civic technologists who contribute to a robust information ecosystem in places, and for national funders, identifying and supporting those organizations that do the same ecosystem-level information work for the field as a whole. And looking to the future, it means investing in building a pipeline of community development professionals who have both the technical skills and content knowledge to put information technology to work for the field.[11]

This chapter has benefitted from a robust dialogue about what works in community development that many others have been active in shaping for years. It also benefits from the keen insights of peer foundations, policymakers, nonprofit organizations, researchers, consultants, and observers of the community development field—some, but not nearly all, of whom are citied here. I hope it will contribute to that dialogue and that funders of community development initiatives in particular will learn something from the MacArthur Foundation’s experience that improves their work just as the Foundation’s strategies have grown out of decades of research and practice that came before.

Participating in this conversation and sharing what has not worked as candidly as what has is part of the commitment to continual improvement that we expect from our grantees, our partners, and ourselves as investors. But the project of working toward a country where no person lives in poverty, and where all of our neighborhoods increase families’ chances of achieving health, safety, economic opportunity, and connection instead of diminishing them, is a collective responsibility. Each of us, regardless of our position within or outside of the field of community development, is a stakeholder. Let’s do everything we can to invest in this invisible infrastructure, and to make sure that we are engaged and consistent contributors to the crowdsourced roadmap of how to build a more informed community development field, so that 50 years from now (and hopefully, sooner) the picture of progress might become even clearer.

While this article is informed by my experience working at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the views expressed are mine alone and do not represent the views of the institution, its Board or its grantees.

[1]   Zachary Karabell, “What America Won in the ‘War on Poverty’,” The Atlantic, January 12, 2014. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/what-america-won-in-the-war-on-poverty/283006/; “Does the U.S. Need Another War on Poverty?” New York Times, January 5, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/01/05/does-the-us-need-another-war-on-poverty.
[2]   Urban Institute – http://www.urban.org/poverty/.[3]   Patrick Sharkey, Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress towards Racial Equality (Chicago, Illinois, University of Chicago Press 2013); Richard Florida, “The Persistent Geography of Disadvantage,” Citylab, July 25, 2013. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2013/07/persistent-geography-disadvantage/6231.

[4]   The Equality of Opportunity Project

[5]   Karen Mossberger’s seminal research on digital connectivity—access, skills, and meaningful use—and connections to community development objectives has informed and grounded the MacArthur Foundation’s ongoing investments in this arena. See for example: http://cpi.asu.edu/project/smart-communities John Horrigan has also helpfully pushed the connection between “digital readiness” and economic participation. http://jbhorrigan.weebly.com/uploads/3/0/8/0/30809311/digital_readiness.horrigan.june2014.pdf.

[6] Two seminal articles that discuss the importance of building capacity to use information in nonprofit work are (1) Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard, “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2009, http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_nonprofit_starvation_cycle and (2) John Kania and Mark Kramer, “Collective Impact,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011, http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact.

[7]   Markets for Good is an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the financial firm Liquidnet to “improve the system for generating, sharing, and acting upon data and information in the social sector.” http://www.marketsforgood.org/making-sense-of-data-and-information-in-the-social-sector/.

[8]   See the 10-year report on the New Communities Program, “The Promise of Community Development,” http://www.mdrc.org/publication/promise-comprehensive-community-development and the FSG case study of Opportunity Chicago http://www.fsg.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/PDF/CI_Case_Study_Opportunity_Chicago.pdf.

[9]   Kania and Kramer, 2011.

[10]  Urban Institute/NNIP – Assessment of the Chicago Metropolitan Area Community Information Infrastructure, March 2013.

[11]  “Data Days” have emerged in cities around the country, from Boston to Charlotte. The Chicago School of Data Project is an ongoing effort to map and organize the community information ecosystem in Chicago, and included a two-day conference in September 2014. The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership maintains documentation about these events around the country: http://www.neighborhoodindicators.org/activities/partner/charlotte-data-day-2014.