By Jeremy Pyne, GIS manager, Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s Community Research Institute
The ability of local nonprofits, foundations, and citizens to access detailed information about their communities is ever evolving as the need for data to target efforts in local policy making and community building increases. Access to data and open source tools to extract and analyze information have come a long way in the past decade and increase the ability of users to make data-driven decisions.
Over the past year, the Community Research Institute (CRI) created Community Profiles 2.0, a website with a new set of data and information for the local community that was not easily accessible before. This new website was created with support from the Dyer-Ives Foundation. The first phase of the project focused on local housing and economic data for neighborhoods within the City of Grand Rapids. CRI partnered with Kent County and the City of Grand Rapids to obtain access to parcel level information for housing across the city. Economic information was purchased through two private vendors for details at the neighborhood level. The housing and economic sections’ content was driven by Grand Valley State University faculty and community experts. Community stakeholder work groups were formed for each section and they met periodically to review suggested data and information in each content area and test the new tools developed for the site.
CRI presented about Community Profiles 2.0 at the 41st Annual Council of Michigan Foundations Conference on Oct. 14, 2013 in Grand Rapids, Mich. The presentation focused on the functionality and capabilities of the tool. Through a diverse set of open source platforms including Weave (an online mapping platform) and High Charts (open source charting platform), users are allowed to create and save their own maps and charts, generate reports for neighborhoods or user defined custom geographies, and score neighborhoods across multiple indicators. The tools were presented in the form of case scenarios and detailed how local organizations could use them to make data-driven decisions in their work for the community.
Paul Haan, executive director of Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, was part of the presentation and gave a community user perspective. Staff at his organization use data and mapping from CRI to focus their efforts on identifying health issues related to housing throughout the City of Grand Rapids.
CRI is currently working on the second phase of the project: developing local public health and demographic indicators, and allowing users to interactively share their work through a public portal and through social media.