Executive Summary

Project Our Sponsor Who We Are Goals & Objectives Executive Summary Report & Video

 

The Central Massachusetts region has no shortage of motivated people and organizations that are eager to make lasting, positive changes to the community. Yet they currently lack a comprehensive resource to both identify and prioritize where the changes are most needed, and to track the progress of their efforts. The grants and charitable giving that tackle these changes are not limitless and therefore must be appropriated in a way that maximizes community impact.

Currently, there is an abundance of data, not all of which is being aggregated, synthesized, or otherwise used to inform members of the community. A consistent, reliable source to measure and track the wellbeing of various facets of the Central Massachusetts community has the potential to benefit grant writers and community leaders.

Background

Hundreds of projects exist around the United States that are dedicated to tracking the health and wellbeing of a community (CIC, 2015). Most of these projects are known as “community indicators projects”, as each project typically identifies, acquires, and maintains sets of data indicative of the wellbeing of some part of the community (e.g. economy, education, health) (Van Assche, 2010).

The streamlined process for users to assess community status creates the opportunity for nearly anyone to utilize data in order to understand a community and contribute towards its wellbeing. Such groups include interested residents, elected officials, foundations, business leaders, grant writers and public agency managers (Dluhy, 2006).

Methods

The goal of this project was to work collaboratively with the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) to provide them with a recommended framework for the development of a full-scale indicators project in Central Massachusetts.

In order to complete our goal, we achieved the following four objectives:

Objective 1: Identify successful, currently operating indicators projects

We worked with our sponsors at the CMRPC to identify a definition for success of an indicators project. We define a successful indicators project as: (1) one that has been in full operation for more than two years; (2) one that has conducted periodic evaluations of the program’s success; and (3) one that has stable, sustainable funding.

Objective 2: Research and analyze methods used in indicators projects identified in Objective 1, focusing particularly on funding procurement, to be used as a guideline in development of a framework for the Central Massachusetts indicators program

We used a case study approach, with a multiple-case design, to learn from successful indicators projects. The case study approach included analysis of other indicators projects, meta-analysis of project reports, as well as interviews with a subset of those involved with these established projects.

We identified seven general aspects of an indicators project to aid in the analysis of existing projects.

1. Project funding

2. Project goal and origins

3. Stakeholder determination

4. Stakeholder input

5. Indicator selection

6. Data acquisition and indicator analysis

7. Publication and distribution of findings and results

Objective 3: Assist in the efforts to publicize DataCommon

We prepared a short informational video which demonstrated the core functions of DataCommon, and shared clips from interviews with existing DataCommon users explaining their use cases for the resource. We worked with the CMRPC to ensure the informational video was made publicly available, and was shown during meetings of potential stakeholders. This maximized the utility of the video by targeting the message directly to the desired audiences.

Objective 4: Develop framework and process recommendations for a full-scale Central MA indicators project using findings from Objectives 1-3

To provide the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission with recommendations for a full-scale indicators project, we synthesized the large amounts of information gathered from indicators projects interviews, content analysis, and meta-analysis, using several matrices.

Findings

After analyzing our research, we arrived at the following findings.

Finding 1: It is important to define the target population who will benefit to ensure the greatest impact of the project

Finding 2: Having reliable sources of funding is key in the development, implementation, and sustainability of an indicators project

Finding 3: The number of selected indicators and their geographic scopes directly affects project impact and sustainability

Finding 4: Employing repeatable and sustainable data sourcing methods can help to alleviate the resource burden of keeping the indicators data up to date

Finding 5: Collaboration provides mutual benefits to indicators projects and local organizations

Finding 6: The findings and results of an indicators project must be published and distributed effectively to facilitate community impact

Finding 7: Different sectors (e.g. Education, Health) often require different approaches to community involvement and indicator selection

Recommendations

We first recommend that the CMRPC carefully assess its current funding and resources, as well as its projections for funding resources in the foreseeable future. Funding is crucial because of how community involvement, indicator selection, and findings/results distributions and publishing are all tightly constrained by funding and resources within the CMRPC. By first assessing these, the project can be developed within the scope of feasibility and sustainability.

When initially selecting indicators, pursue those that are backed with data that is both easily obtained and maintained. Constrain the scope of the indicators project to just a handful of sectors initially if necessary due to limited funding and resources. Once support builds, other sectors and more burdensome indicators can be supported to expand the utility and impact of the project. Consult with local experts and community stakeholders in related fields for guidance and direction in the initial indicator selection process. When discussions with local experts suggest that obtaining input from a larger, grassroots community group may be advantageous, proceed with a known direction that is determined with the local experts in order to most effectively guide conversation with community members.

As the current structure of DataCommon only allows for city/town-level data to be utilized, continue to populate the data repository with data from the US Census/American Community Survey (ACS). Consider narrowing the geographic scale of Worcester data to neighborhood-level when funding and resources allow. Because no lower-level data can currently be entered into

DataCommon for the city of Worcester, the usability and actionability of Worcester data is severely limited.

Once DataCommon is stable and well-populated with public, easily available city/town-level data (and hopefully neighborhood-level in Worcester), begin spending time and resources acquiring more specialized data sets where the need is identified by desired indicators, e.g. local town government officials or utilities companies. Carefully document all processes used to gather and use this data for the sake of repeatability and sustainability.

We recommend investigating and pursuing inclusion into the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership to utilize the experiences of other indicators projects to more easily grow the Central Mass Indicators Project.

When publishing reports, tailor information to the community leaders identified as the target audience. Focus the discussion of project reports to areas where these organizations can focus their efforts, enabling the highest use for the indicators information.

Based on the response we saw to the DataCommon Informational Video we provided to the CMRPC, we recommend that the CMRPC continue efforts to publicize DataCommon to potential stakeholders with visual media. Given the interactive nature of DataCommon, we noted that a visual explanation is effective in explaining the tools available through the repository after several screenings with stakeholders.

It is important that the CMRPC be able to format presented reports and data in a manner which is receptive to the stakeholders. Formatting requires the CMRPC to have the ability to modify all publication materials including the website which houses DataCommon and eventually the indicators project reports and summaries. The current website is restricted to the formatting of the MetroBoston DataCommon. We recommend that the CMRPC investigate possible resources for the

creation of a new website, one specific to the Central Massachusetts region. A new website would allow the CMRPC to modify formatting to suit the needs that stakeholders express.

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