Training to Use Data for Community Improvement

Building the Data Capacity of Local Nonprofits
A formal training program builds the skill sets of nonprofit organizations to better serve residents and neighborhoods using data.

Making Grantmaking More Inclusive through Data Training
Intentional outreach can improve and diversify proposals for community services under local grant programs.

Working with Residents to Use Data for Health Equity
A local university center shares training and data tools with residents to support their advocacy for health equity.


Building the Data Capacity of Local Nonprofits

A formal training program builds the skill sets of nonprofit organizations to better serve residents and neighborhoods using data.

For many cities and nonprofits, the biggest stumbling block to building data capacity is getting started. How can organizations develop the confidence to communicate using data? Where can they learn how to use software and web-based tools to collect, manage, and analyze data? How can data be used to improve programs and invest in neighborhoods? With support from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Data Driven Detroit (D3) created Data University to help Detroit nonprofit organizations start building data capacity.

Data University is a 12-week, 6-course program that uses real-world examples and hands-on activities to increase the Detroit nonprofit sector’s capacity to use and understand data. The Wilson Foundation also gave a grant to Co.act Detroit, a collaboration and learning hub for nonprofits in Southeast Michigan, to support Data University by providing physical space for the courses and helping recruit participants.

D3, Detroit’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership representative, designed Data University’s curriculum and is the trainer for its courses. Since Data University launched in 2019, roughly 40 nonprofit organizations have participated.

At Data University, participants learn how to integrate data and storytelling into their day-to-day work. In one course, participants discuss choosing the best visual representation (e.g., a bar or line chart) for their data and create charts using Microsoft Excel. One participant said they learned the value of integrating data with human stories, saying: “Nobody wants to listen to you read a data report, but if you’re able to show an example of the data through a human story about your impact, it’s a much better way to educate and communicate with people. They remember it better.”

With new skills and confidence with data, participants can take what they learn back to their organizations and apply it in their daily work. The benefits of Data University will continue to grow as these practitioners use data in their organizations and as new participants complete the curriculum.

Many thanks to Noah Urban at Data Driven Detroit for sharing insights about Data University and to Liz Duffrin for lending a participant quote to this story.


Making Grantmaking More Inclusive through Data Training

Intentional outreach can improve and diversify proposals for community services under local grant programs.

For nonprofit organizations applying for competitive grant funding, data can make or break their proposals. Larger, established nonprofits generally have more experience using data, which gives them an advantage in competitions for funding, perpetuating inequities that harm organizations led by and serving people who have been marginalized. In Seattle, staff members from Communities Count—a cross-sector collaboration housed at Public Health–Seattle and King County and funded by the Seattle Foundation, the United Way of King County, and local governments—wanted to better understand the impacts of this data disparity.

To do so, Communities Count staff members analyzed applications for funding from Communities of Opportunity, a regional initiative to stop the increases in racial and geographic disparities in health outcomes. They confirmed that the probability of receiving funding was closely linked to applicants’ ability to use data in proposals. Although all funded proposals had used data effectively, only 41 percent of unfunded proposals had done so. Some unfunded proposals were seeking support for innovative programs or responses to emerging needs in communities, but, according to one staff member, “they were unable to articulate their need or link the data they provided to the actual project.”

From this analysis, Communities Count recognized that building stronger data capacity among Seattle-area nonprofits could improve the quality of proposals and lead to more funding for innovative programs and emerging ideas. Staff members interviewed organizations that were turned down for funding and used their ideas to develop a training focused on telling a story through data that supports a case for funding.

Expanding on this initial training in 2015, Communities Count now offers trainings on advanced topics like logic models, evaluation basics, and community surveys. Training is also offered for community-based organizations responding to funding opportunities like those offered through Best Starts for Kids, a county-funded early childhood services program. Support for using data in applications to this program started at the bidders’ conference and continued through the application process.

This story is based in part on a post on Microsoft New England’s blog. Communities Count partners include Best Starts for Kids, City of Bellevue Parks and Community Services Department, the City of Seattle, Communities of Opportunity, King County Department of Community and Human Services, Public Health–Seattle and King County, the Seattle Foundation, and United Way of King County. Thanks to Mariko Toyoji and Sara Jaye Sanford from Public Health–Seattle and King County for their review.


Working with Residents to Use Data for Health Equity

A local university center shares training and data tools with residents to support their advocacy for health equity.

In Kansas City, the Health Forward Foundation is supporting communities to use data to change systems that affect health. The foundation invested in the Kansas City Health Community-Organized Resource Exchange (KC Health CORE), an effort to create access to data, tools, and training to empower people to advocate for themselves. The Health Forward Foundation provided grant funding to the Center for Economic Information at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to launch and manage KC Health CORE; the university’s Center for Neighborhoods is also a collaborator.

KC Health CORE seeks to develop the infrastructure for a secure, centralized, and integrated database to study population health disparities in a social determinants of health context, to support collaborative research activities, and to increase community engagement that empowers residents to use data and research to reach health equity. Key components of the KC Health CORE community engagement work are training, tools, and connections:

  • Training. Since 2016, nearly 200 residents have completed the Neighborhood Leadership Training program, which promotes skills and strategies for building a culture of health in communities. In 2019, KC Health CORE, with the Center for Neighborhoods, created a building data capacity training module that was adopted as part of the program’s curriculum and has been used with recent cohorts of leaders.
  • Tools. Through KC Health CORE, University of Missouri-Kansas City developed a neighborhood health data platform where people decide what data about their neighborhoods are displayed. Neighborhood leaders also include perspectives from their lived experiences.
  • Connections. The Community Steering Committee connects residents of neighborhoods affected by health disparities with researchers, health care institutions, and practitioners. The committee can provide a forum for direct resident involvement in and oversight of research conducted in their neighborhoods to ensure the research benefits the neighborhoods.

Residents have already benefited from KC Health CORE’s efforts. For example, a Neighborhood Leadership Training participant from the Foxtown West neighborhood used the data platform to better understand residents’ health conditions and to advocate for bringing a new health center to the area.

Many thanks to Jordan Ayala and Doug Bowles from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Center for Economic Information and Karen Dehais from the Health Forward Foundation for sharing insights about KC Health CORE.


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