Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis, IN

Reaching a New Audience for Civic Data and Community Research
Partner organizations: The Polis Center at IUPUI, WFYI Public Media
The Indianapolis Public Library partnered with data intermediary the Polis Center at IUPUI and WFYI to expand the audience of the Center’s community data talks. The project also supported an audience of library staff, training public services staff to use community data to support programming and patron needs. The team found virtual sessions to work in their favor - widening their audience and making using data less intimidating.
In 2019, the Library partnered with the Polis Center at IUPUI and WFYI Public Media to offer their popular SAVI Talks in a new format and to a new audience. SAVI (www.savi.org) is a program of The Polis Center at IUPUI that offers free data to community members. SAVI trains people and organizations to use that information to make data-informed decisions and advocate for changes that will help to improve the quality of life in their communities. The Library has enjoyed strong partner relationships with both the Polis Center and WFYI for many years.
SAVI Talks are events held twice yearly, and bring together 70-90 practitioners, researchers, and thought leaders to discuss trends, share best practices, and brainstorm solutions related to the state’s most pressing areas of need. Library management staff frequently attended the SAVI Talks, which are held during workday hours; the Library also found that much of the data impacted conversations we were having with patrons and partners in our branch locations.
Data and Drafts was conceived as a new kind of event that would complement SAVI Talks. Held during the evening, we were able to reach a new audience of nonprofits, community organizations, community leaders, policymakers, activists, and citizens broadly who want to understand the data behind current issues facing Indianapolis, but were unavailable to participate during the workday. Our project was also able to offer additional training to the library's public service staff in using the SAVI resources to inform programming and services to their communities.
We planned for three to four evening sessions, to be held quarterly at the Indianapolis Public Library’s Central Branch, where the Polis Center would share research around a particular topic of interest to the community. WFYI would help inform the event topics, publicize the event and co-host each program session with Library staff. Staff from the Polis Center would present information using their SAVI Community Trends Report, dot-maps, and other interactive information pieces. Participants would be seated at round tables, where they could enjoy snacks and a beverage, and interact with the researchers and each other around the data being presented.
The in-person events planned had to be reimagined as virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of examining unique community trends at each session, our team decided to make statistics surrounding COVID-19 the focus of all three sessions. We held the Data and Drafts events on the evenings of June 25th, August 20th and October 29th 2020, via Zoom meetings. During those sessions, we discussed general facts and statistics about COVID-19 and the coronavirus, as well as its impact on employment, housing and other socio-economic factors in our community. Our partners at Sun King Brewery provided gift cards that were awarded to participants during the events. We also encouraged participants to purchase beverages from Sun King to drink during the Data and Drafts sessions.
Data and Drafts fact sheet. Photo courtesy of https://www.savi.org/news-events/data-and-drafts/
Researchers from the Polis Center also attended meetings of Indianapolis Public Library Adult Public Services staff to present the same information and train staff to access and share information from SAVI.org. Staff training was also done virtually, with the later sessions focusing on COVID-19 statistics for each branch service area, and how staff could use that information to inform future program planning and predict strongest patron needs when Library locations reopened (Library locations were offering restricted services at that time, due to the pandemic).
Library staff benefitted from holding the training sessions virtually. It allowed more staff to attend, as travel time was not a factor, and staff members were able to leave the meeting to assist at their location if necessary. The Library was able to ask staff for specific needs or questions, which the Polis Center incorporated into their training. In addition, we were able to record the training and make it available to staff who couldn’t attend the meeting.
Our partners were very important to the success of this program: the Polis Center provided the context and depth of knowledge to answer patron questions, and WFYI brought deep community knowledge and the ability to expand our conversation more broadly. The program would not have been as robust without their participation and the conversations would not have had as much deep contextual background or been as well-informed.

The Library’s role as a Third Place, or community gathering point, was crucial in growing a new audience...

The Data and Drafts program has provided a strong model for using data to effectively inform conversations around both local and national trends, and engage community members in understanding and using that data to advocate for inclusive solutions. The Library’s role as a Third Place, or community gathering point, was crucial in growing a new audience: our attendees for these casual, evening sessions, where they could enjoy a beverage while grappling with data and learning from each other, were typically of a wider age range and the more casual environment (though virtual) made the topics seem less intimidating. For future sessions, we might consider additional days and times for this program that can fit more easily into participants’ busy schedules. The opportunity for learning and conversation in a more relaxed environment could be recreated in a daytime setting and would offer more flexibility for attendees.