St. Joseph County Public Library, South Bend, IN

Building Civic Data Community Partnerships
Partner organizations: City of South Bend, University of Notre Dame, Enfocus inc.
St. Joseph County Public Library worked with local government and university partners to assess the data capacity of community organizations in the region. Informed by a survey of local nonprofits, they produced a comprehensive report highlighting challenges these organizations face in using and accessing data. The project underlined the importance of regular discussions between community partners and those -- such as libraries -- who wish to support their data needs. Through this effort the team came to recognize the barriers the organizations are facing were less likely related to accessing data but to time and staff capacity to use the data. Next steps include facilitating recurring community conversations and building focused trainings to meet community needs.
South Bend, Indiana, has one of the highest concentration of nonprofit organizations of any city in the United States. While South Bend has a strong nonprofit network that can provide robust services, these resources are often under-organized. The local universities and engaged philanthropic sector provide a significant amount of potential support for these organizations, whose data needs, prior to the commencement of this grant, were poorly understood.
The St. Joseph County Public Library, the City of South Bend, and the University of Notre Dame partnered to assess the data capacity of mission-driven community organizations through survey and interviews. The Library was the overall champion of the project. It led communication and outreach to local nonprofits, was an active participant in the interview process, and facilitated the survey data collection. EnFocus Inc - a non-profit with a data intermediary role was the subcontractor the city used to organize the project and do the surveys/focus groups.
The goal of the needs assessment was primarily to understand what data the local community groups want access to and what skills they need to utilize this information. The assessment was done in multiple steps. First, a survey was conducted with a total of 65 out of 141 respondents from the nonprofit sector. The second step was a series of targeted interviews with 10 different organizations that responded to the initial survey to further explore their responses and their direct needs. Following this process, a comprehensive report was produced illustrating the current state of the data ecosystem in South Bend, Indiana.
The report discusses current tools, software, or programs used by organizations to capture, store, analyze, and share data. Additionally, it highlights the challenges—employee skills, financial barriers, or time management— organizations have with being able to use or access data successfully. The information gathered in this report will be shared and utilized in the final stage of the project at a Data User Roundtable event. The goal of this event will be to deepen community partnerships and craft programming to be offered by the Library and the City to fill the identified data needs of the local community.
Due to COVID-19, the project experienced several pivots. Once we were able to approach our target audience of nonprofit organizations the need to conduct interviews via web based video conferencing software may have been a barrier to some institutions. Additionally, not being able to host an in person event likely decreased participation.
The principal impact of this project has been highlighting the specific needs and instruction required by local nonprofits. The survey prompted organizations to think critically about the use of data and how it can positively impact operations. Existing programs have been identified within partner organizations that can be expanded or adapted to fit the needs highlighted through this project. An example would be to build on the training currently available through the public library around lifelong learning and coding. However, the needs assessment also made clear the need for trainings not currently offered. Newly formed partnerships have been identified to meet these needs or help to bridge organizational gaps in working with data.

A central lesson learned is the intentional practice of having regular discussions with community partners or other service providers.

A central lesson learned is the intentional practice of having regular discussions with community partners or other service providers. The team's expectations of local nonprofits and service provider data needs were not fully accurate. Project partners initially believed the best approach to further support these organizations was to release more information and data. However, half of respondents either expressed no desire for acquiring additional data or did not respond to the question about this question in the survey. Instead, respondents identified top challenges as staff lacking necessary skills and a lack of time or resources to dedicate to working with their data. Data visualization and data storytelling were identified as most desired skills, followed by advanced data analysis, and data management, storage, and retrieval. These insights about mission-driven organizations in the South Bend area provide focus areas to explore during the Data User Roundtable event.
This project has positioned the library and all project partners to better address community needs. Next steps involve convening a series of roundtable events and building out programming through the Library and the City's Technology Resource Center that will address the community's most pertinent data needs. The long term vision of these programs is to fill the technical assistance and data training gaps for mission-driven institutions in our region.