April 15 marked Cleveland’s third year of Data Days CLE, an event for which The Center for Community Solutions is a proud sponsor. As a member of the planning committee for the event, I can honestly say that the folks behind Data Days are some of the coolest, grittiest nerds I know—they are people who care deeply about data transparency and integrity, with a laser focus on using data to improve our community. If you were having some serious FOMO last week, I’ll break down some of my key takeaways for you.
Follow the data to the story
Whether it was Troy Thibodeaux’s inspiring keynote remarks, or local journalists Rachel Dissell, Sarah Buduson and Nick Castele talking about their work covering local stories using data, the role of data and journalism was front and center at this year’s Data Days. Thibodeaux, Data Journalism Editor for the Associated Press, spoke about the importance of using data to tell stories. “Data makes stories credible; Stories make data meaningful,” he said as he talked about his experience working with data at AP. Perhaps due to a recent round of layoffs at The Plain Dealer, the reverence for journalism as a profession which bolsters our democracy was palpable in the room. I chatted with Dissell in the lobby when someone came up to tell her that he had just subscribed to The Plain Dealer. The work of collaborations that come out of Data Days has the potential to build our community’s capacity, both among journalists and researchers, to tell better, richer stories about the issues that hold us back—and the solutions that will move us forward.
“Data makes stories credible; Stories make data meaningful”
Like it or not, the Census is coming
One morning panel presentation, moderated by Community Solutions’ own Emily Campbell, focused on Census 2020 and the importance of getting a complete count. There is a lot at stake in Ohio – $33.5 billion in federal funding and a congressional seat or two, to be exact. Statewide, the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio is leading Ohio’s advocacy efforts around ensuring a complete count via The Ohio Census Advocacy Coalition. While we were all enjoying Data Days, Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order that established Ohio’s statewide Census 2020 Complete Count Commission, an important step toward ensuring a complete count in Ohio. When it comes to counting everyone, it will take a robust grassroots effort to educate the public about how to fill out the census (it will be available online for the first time), and why they should. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about the addition of a citizenship question to the census, one of many factors that may lead some to avoid the census due to confidentiality concerns or mistrust of government. Steve Shope, a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau, assured the crowd that all personal information is cleansed from census data, and no other government agencies would be able to access that data, whether or not the citizenship question makes it in. But overcoming misperceptions in the community is part of the battle. And it’s important. As Shope put it, “Census data is the backbone of a representational democracy in America.”
While we were all enjoying Data Days, Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order that established Ohio’s statewide Census 2020 Complete Count Commission, an important step toward ensuring a complete count in Ohio.
Open data requires culture change
One of my favorite breakout sessions of the day was by Jane Alexander, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) Chief Digital Information Officer, who led the museum into the future by making it an Open Access institution. That means that images of all of the museum’s public domain artworks are available for download and unrestricted use via Creative Commons Zero. Maybe you’re wondering why I, a researcher of health and social issues, was so inspired by this presentation. Well, I am an admittedly an art lover, but I was also profoundly impacted by Alexander’s commitment to culture change within an historic institution. She faced resistance and critics—people who didn’t understand the vision of what open access could do for the museum and for the community. But she had a clear vision of what could be accomplished by working toward open access, she saw the value that it could add to the institution and she has seen inspiring results as the community has creatively used the collection for a variety of projects. As other institutions think about opening access to their data, there tends to be a lot of fear. What will happen if we open this up to the public? How will they use it? What will they find? These institutions would do well to take a page out of CMA’s playbook and see what a real culture change around data transparency could accomplish. The museum’s thoughtfulness about the interface and usability of their data, as well as their commitment to transparency, offers meaningful lessons for other organizations looking to change their culture around data sharing.
In sum, it was an inspiring, thought-provoking day at Data Days 2019. If you’re looking to get involved in next year’s event (or any local efforts around data in the meantime) reach out at www.datadayscle.org or just drop me a line.