What Counts: Harnessing Data for America’s Communities

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Urban Institute

Year: 2014

This book is a response to the explosive interest in and availability of data, especially for improving America’s communities. It is designed to be useful to practitioners, policymakers, funders, and the data intermediaries and other technical experts who help transform all types of data into useful information. Some of the essays—which draw on experts from community development, population health, education, finance, law, and information systems—address high-level systems-change work.

Others are immensely practical, and come close to explaining “how to.” All discuss the incredibly exciting opportunities and challenges that our ever-increasing ability to access and analyze data provide. As the book’s editors, we of course believe everyone interested in improving outcomes for low-income communities would benefit from reading every essay. But we’re also realists, and know the demands of the day-to-day work of advancing opportunity and promoting well-being for disadvantaged populations. With that in mind, we are providing this roadmap to enable readers with different needs to start with the essays most likely to be of interest to them.

For everyone, but especially those who are relatively new to understanding the promise of today’s data for communities, the opening essay is a useful summary and primer. Similarly, the final essay provides both a synthesis of the book’s primary themes and a focus on the systems challenges ahead. Section 2, Transforming Data into Policy-Relevant Information, offers a glimpse into the array of data tools and approaches that advocates, planners, investors, developers and others are currently using to inform and shape local and regional processes.

Section 3, Enhancing Data Access and Transparency, should catch the eye of those whose interests are in expanding the range of data that is commonly within reach and finding ways to link data across multiple policy and program domains, all while ensuring that privacy and security are respected. Section 4, Strengthening the Validity and Use of Data, will be particularly provocative for those concerned about building the capacity of practitioners and policymakers to employ appropriate data for understanding and shaping community change.

The essays in section 5, Adopting More Strategic Practices, examine the roles that practitioners, funders, and policymakers all have in improving the ways we capture the multi-faceted nature of community change, communicate about the outcomes and value of our work, and influence policy at the national level.

There are of course interconnections among the essays in each section. We hope that wherever you start reading, you’ll be inspired to dig deeper into the book’s enormous richness, and will join us in an ongoing conversation about how to employ the ideas in this volume to advance policy and practice.

Download What Counts: Harnessing Data for America’s Communities


     • Sarah Rosen Wartell, Urban Institute
     • John C. Williams, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
     • A Roadmap: How to Use this Book
     • Data and Community—Foundation for an Agenda
G. Thomas Kingsley and Kathryn L.S. Pettit, Urban Institute
     • The Future of Community Indicator Systems
J. Benjamin Warner, Jacksonville Community Council Inc.
     • The County Health Rankings: “A Treasure Trove of Data”
Bridget Catlin, University Of Wisconsin, Madison
     • Making Sense of Markets: Using Data to Guide Reinvestment Strategies
Ira Goldstein, The Reinvestment Fund
     • IN BRIEF — The Low Income Investment Fund’s Social Impact Calculator
Nancy O. Andrews and Dan Rinzler, LIIF
     • Health Impact Assessments: Improving Public Health through Community Development
Aaron Wernham, The Health Impact Project
     • Making the Most of Open Data
Emily Shaw, Sunlight Foundation
     • The Creation of the National Mortgage Database
Robert Avery, Federal Housing Finance Agency
Marsha J. Courchane, Charles River Associates
Peter Zorn, Freddie Mac
     • IN BRIEF — Applying Technology Advances to Improve Public Access to Mortgage Data
Ren Essene and Michael Byrne, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
     • Three Data Access Trends Shaping the Future of Community Development: Open Data, My Data, and Smart Disclosure
Amias Gerety, U.S. Treasury Department Office of Financial Institutions
Sophie Raseman, U.S. Treasury Department Office of Consumer Policy
     • IN BRIEF — Can Data From Nonprofit Hospital Tax Returns Improve Community Health?
Erik Bakken and David Kindig, University of Wisconsin, Madison
     • The Youth Sector: Supporting Cross-Institutional Community Collaboration through Shared Data
Rebecca A. London, University of California, Santa Cruz
Milbrey Mclaughlin, Stanford University
     • Data Integration for Social Policy: Challenges and Opportunities
John Petrila, University of South Florida
     • Affordable Housing as a Platform for Resident Success: Building the Evidence Base
Bill Kelly, SAHF
Fred Karnas, The Kresge Foundation
     • The Transformative Power of Shared Data
Annie Donovan and Rick Jacobus, CoMetrics
     • IN BRIEF — Data Transparency and Standardization
Paige Chapel, Aeris (formerly CARS Inc.)
     • Enhancing Data Quality, Relevance, and Use through Community-Based Participatory Research
Meredith Minkler, University of California, Berkeley
     • Using Data to Understand Residential Mobility and Neighborhood Change
Claudia J. Coulton, Case Western Reserve University
     • IN BRIEF — Putting Data into Action for Regional Equity in California’s San Joaquin Valley
Alex Karner, Arizona State University
Jonathan London, University of California, Davis
Dana Rowangould, Sustainable Systems Research, LLC
Catherine Garoupa White, University of California, Davis
     • Shared Measurement: Advancing Evaluation of Community Development Outcomes
Maggie Grieve, Success Measures at NeighborWorks America
     • New Ways of Using Data in Federal Place-Based Initiatives: Opportunities to Create a Results Framework and Raise the Visibility of Equity Issues
Victor Rubin and Michael McAfee, PolicyLink
     • Everything Old is New Again: Building Nonprofit Capacity in the Age of Big Data 
Susana Vasquez and Patrick Barry, LISC Chicago
     • IN BRIEF — Enabling and Driving Performance Management in Local Government
Cory Fleming and Randall Reid, International City/County Management Association
     • “Narrative” and “Vehicle”: Using Evidence to Inform Policy
Raphael W. Bostic, University of Southern California
     • IN BRIEF — Sustaining Data Culture within Local Government
Erika Poethig, Urban Institute
     • Evaluating Social Determinants of Health in Community Development Projects
David Fleming, Hilary N. Karasz and Kirsten Wysen, Public Health—Seattle King County
     • Using Data to Drive Change in Complex Community Systems
Patricia Bowie and Moira Inkelas, University of California, Los Angeles
     • The Role of Data and Measurement in Impact Investing: How Do You Know if You’re Making a Difference?
Ian Galloway, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
     • Strengthening Community Development: A Call for Investment in Information Infrastructure
Alaina J. Harkness, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
     • What Counts?
Naomi Cytron, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco