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Putting community data into action

July 19, 2016

One example of an Indianapolis neighborhood.

This is how IndyVitals breaks down the IUPUI campus as one of the city's many neighborhoods. There are pages of data for each neighborhood that help community decision-makers gauge what resources are available and which problems to address.

As Indianapolis shapes itself for its post-bicentennial future, IUPUI will play a key role through IndyVitals, a data portal created by The Polis Center and powered by its community information system, Social Assets and Vulnerabilities Indicators, more often referred to as SAVI.

"IndyVitals was established for Plan 2020 as part of a collective vision to define Indianapolis' next 100 years," said Sharon Kandris, the director of SAVI. "Plan 2020 seeks to bring together several existing initiatives and plans into a cohesive storyline through collaboration and coordination -- it wanted a tool to support that process and to measure in impact of those efforts on the city's neighborhoods."

The information-intensive project was created through a partnership involving the city's Department of Metropolitan Development, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee and IUPUI, through The Polis Center and SAVI. The goal is to provide community leaders with accurate information to help them make decisions that address problems and improve communities.

The system, Kandris noted, provides reams of information that pinpoint problems but also identifies neighborhood assets. She believes IndyVitals has a great chance to succeed because "people are becoming more and more data savvy."

"The information we have compiled tells the story of 99 neighborhood areas very quickly. It packages the information together in a way that anyone can understand, regardless of their training or background," she said. "It allows people to work together from the same page, to figure out what resources they have on hand and which ones are needed to reach a community's goals."

Kandris said that SAVI was a logical choice to power IndyVitals because it has one of the nation's largest information systems, which provides access to thousands of metrics on socio-economic conditions, demographics and more. The data in SAVI is gathered from approximately 30 local, state and national data sources from a wide range of providers.

"The IndyVitals tool meets a well-known and established need and allows all of us to reach new audiences," Kandris said. It's important, she noted, that the campus and the community establish realistic expectations of the road ahead.

"IndyVitals is not a one-size-fits-all proposition," she said. "The point of having all this data is for people -- academics, community leaders or neighborhood residents -- to focus on 'what is the story for this area?' They have to decide what the strengths are and what is missing, one neighborhood at a time."

How do people access the information?

"We wanted to make the data as simple to access and interpret as possible, so we created three tiers of access ranging from a quick dashboard to an advanced view of the data," Kandris said. Generally, the data is available on the IndyVitals website within one or two clicks.

IUPUI students have had a role in creating IndyVitals, helping with data collection, transformation and visualization.

"The students have had a great opportunity to learn new skills in making information accessible while supporting an important community effort," Kandris said. "They've learned firsthand how to transform messy data into meaningful information and the importance of engaging community members in the process to define data that will inform decision-making."

IndyVitals "is about using data to understand community issues, existing resources and gaps so that organizations and residents can develop strategies for improving their communities," Kandris said. "In its first two weeks, we already are hearing stories about how IndyVitals is being used toward this end. A local community development corporation used it for a grant application to show the need for additional affordable housing in its service area, and a graduate student was able to find exactly what he needed to support his thesis for his master's degree in public health. I look forward to hearing about more such outcomes in the future. Nothing excites me more than knowing we've created a tool that will make a positive difference."

Note: This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting IUPUI's Strategic Plan initiatives.

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