Technical Assistance with Data for Greater Impact

Enhancing Community Services with Data
A package of support—technical assistance, training, and peer learning—enhances the data skills and practices of organizations and improves community services.

Helping Nonprofits to Use Data to Improve Programs
Coaching, a community of practice, and evaluation tools enable nonprofits to use data to be more responsive to community needs.

Furthering Data-Driven Local Government
A national program supports local governments’ use of data for engagement and decisionmaking.

Accelerating Data Integration for Community Solutions
Flexible funding enables a national organization to support states and localities in developing integrated data systems to address community issues.


Enhancing Community Services with Data

A package of support—technical assistance, training, and peer learning—enhances the data skills and practices of organizations and improves community services.

Baptist Community Ministries is investing in building the data capacity of nonprofit organizations in New Orleans. In 2019, it provided grant funding to The Data Center, New Orleans’s community data intermediary, to develop a program that helps organizations expand the use of data in their programs. The assistance is targeted to organizations that already have some skills and practices in using data.

Through the IMPACT (Improving Measures and Practices through Action, Coaching, and Training) Fellowship, nonprofits will develop data capacities that enable them to better achieve their missions. The IMPACT Fellowship provides training and coaching to nonprofits’ team members, including the executive director, a board member, and a staff person responsible for data initiatives, such as a program manager or data analyst. Training workshops provide opportunities for peer exchange, knowledge and skill development, and practical application of data concepts. One-on-one coaching enables organizations to take what is covered in workshops and tailor the lessons to inform and improve their specific programs.

In a 2020 pilot of the IMPACT Fellowship, three organizations that serve youth disconnected from school and work started the training and coaching process led by The Data Center. The fellowship model can meet a need for training and coaching among organizations ready to deepen their work with data to support the success of young people in New Orleans.

Thanks to Don Asay and Dabne Whitemore of The Data Center for their contributions and review of this story.


Helping Nonprofits to Use Data to Improve Programs

Coaching, a community of practice, and evaluation tools enable nonprofits to use data to be more responsive to community needs.

Wanting to strengthen the capacity of local nonprofit organizations, the Urban Institute used funding from the World Bank Group to start an initiative that bolsters the ability of nonprofits in the Washington, DC, and Baltimore region to use data. The initiative, Measure4Change, offers nonprofits one-on-one coaching, data and evaluation tools, and peer learning through a community of practice.

Measure4Change seeks to help nonprofits better understand how they are helping their constituencies and how they can improve. Early participants have responded positively to the program, praising Measure4Change for meeting nonprofits where they are and helping them improve data systems, engage staff in raising the quality of programs, and access more competitive funding.

Coaching is an essential component of Measure4Change. Coaches from the Urban Institute work with nonprofits to plan goals and objectives and a timeline for their work. As the plans are implemented, Urban coaches communicate with the organizations regularly, and in-person meetings happen at least once a month.

Through Measure4Change, nonprofits have expanded their capacity to use data. With this additional capacity, the nonprofits have improved their programs by better targeting services to community needs, prioritizing key service areas, adopting new organizational tools, and improving data collection instruments and organizational processes.

To help nonprofits as they increase data capacity, the Urban Institute developed a set of tools for performance management and evaluation that draw from the experiences of Measure4Change participants. Nonprofits are also encouraged to learn from their peers and take ownership of their learning needs, and they are supported in this through a community of practice facilitated by the Urban Institute.

For funders that want to support nonprofits as they build their data capacity, Measure4Change highlights the importance of direct technical assistance.

This story is summarized from a 2016 Urban Institute brief titled “A New Model for Growing Impact: Measure4Change and Nonprofit Performance Management.” Thanks to Brett Theodos and Peter Tatian for their review.


Furthering Data-Driven Local Government

A national program supports local governments’ use of data for engagement and decisionmaking.

What Works Cities, a national initiative launched in 2015 by Bloomberg Philanthropies, seeks to enhance data use and capacity in the governments of 100 midsize cities. The program helps cities use evidence to engage the public, improve services, and evaluate progress, and it offers an example to national funders for improving governments’ data capacity. Local foundations can also encourage their city and county governments to participate in the networks and learn from national best practices.

Implemented by Results for America, the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University, and the Sunlight Foundation, the program increases cities’ data capacity in several ways:

  • It provides coaching to cities through targeted technical assistance, focusing on areas such as open data implementation, performance management, results-driven contracting, and low-cost evaluations.
  • It connects city governments through a peer-to-peer learning network.
  • It has a training program on topics that include data management, performance analytics, and community engagement for analytics.
  • It hosts workshops on topics such as the negative impact of driver’s license suspensions on residents’ economic opportunity and well-being.
  • It offers toolkits and resources such as the “Roadmap to Informed Communities,” which guides governments in creating opportunities for community use of open data to improve residents’ lives.

To recognize cities that are excelling in data use for local governance, the program created the What Works Cities Certification, which measures the extent to which cities have the staff, policies, and practices to use data in decisionmaking. The program hopes the certifications will inspire other cities to improve their practices. Bloomberg Philanthropies, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ballmer Group, expanded the program to 10 new cities in November 2018 to test new ways of using data to improve economic and educational opportunities.


Accelerating Data Integration for Community Solutions

Flexible funding enables a national organization to support states and localities in developing integrated data systems to address community issues.

Housed at the University of Pennsylvania, Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP) works with state and local governments to develop integrated data systems that link administrative data across government agencies. These systems allow governments and their partners to improve their understanding of local needs and enhance programs and practices through evidence-based collaboration. But creating and sustaining an integrated data system requires data capacities at the individual, organizational, and community levels.

AISP helps places working to build these capacities and relationships. With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, AISP began developing an integrated data system curriculum through the Learning Community initiative in 2016. The program provides training and technical assistance to local and state governments to accelerate the growth of the integrated data system field and helps state and local sites in the early planning stages build political will, cultivate technical and legal capacities around data, and design a system that follows best practices and fits local circumstances. 

The first cohort of 10 local and state governments launched in 2017 with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a federal Social Innovation Fund grant. During the 18-month program, each participant attends three cohort-wide, in-person seminars, receives virtual coaching from AISP, and is visited by the AISP team. Flexible funding allows the AISP team to adapt its assistance as participants’ local contexts change—for example, because of turnover in administration or staff or unexpected windows of opportunity for policy change. As cohorts complete the formal program, they continue to receive support from AISP staff and invitations to meetings of the broader AISP network.

The Linked Information Network of Colorado, a collaboration of the Colorado governor’s office and the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab at the University of Denver, participated in the 2017 cohort. It established the relationships and agreements necessary to begin sharing data among state agencies and later became a full member of the AISP network. Today, the Linked Information Network of Colorado routinely integrates data to improve services and benefits.

Eight agencies participated in the 2018 and 2019 cohorts. AISP staff are considering adapting the Learning Community model to focus on specific themes, such as racial equity or economic mobility. Through AISP’s work, states and local agencies are benefiting from the insights of integrated data to solve problems in their communities.

Thanks to AISP staff members Amy Hawn Nelson, Della Jenkins, and Emily Berkowitz for their review of this story.


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