Local data can be a powerful tool for people and organizations to improve their communities. To leverage the power of local data, communities need capacity-building investments. The Urban Institute (Urban) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) demonstrated through recent grantmaking initiatives that a successful strategy for building community data capacity (PDF) is to directly support communities in using data to further their goals.

Urban and RWJF partnered in 2020 on the Data for COVID-19 Response and Recovery grant program, which provided $40,000 grants to 17 local nonprofit organizations to use data to inform COVID-19 response and recovery in their communities. National and place-based foundations can learn from our experience and invest in the places and outcomes they care about by funding projects that will use data to achieve local priorities. In so doing, communities will accomplish their specific project activities in the short term and improve their ability to use data to make progress on community goals in the future.

Using data to address an immediate need builds ongoing data capacity

A key reason for the 2020 grant program’s success was its broad parameters and limited constraints, based in trust that local nonprofits know the needs of their communities. Grantees proposed projects to use data to inform pandemic response and recovery in their communities, without requirements such as using a specific type of data or working on a specific community condition or topic. Projects responded to immediate local needs and priorities and were not driven by a prescriptive framework created by Urban or RWJF. Through their projects, the grantees strengthened the data capacity of the people and organizations who continue to work on improving their communities.

Read the full article about investing in building data capacity by Jake Cowan at Medium.