Neighborhoods and Health: Building Evidence for Local Policy. Annex A - The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP)

05/01/2003

Institutions in only a handful of U.S. cities have developed the capacity to address the information needs of America's cities effectively. Twenty of them (see list at the end of this annex) have joined with the Urban Institute to form the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP)--a collaborative effort whose mission is to advance the development and use of local neighborhood information systems. Five features distinguish the NNIP partners:

FEATURES OF NNIP'S LOCAL PARTNERS

Integrated, recurrently updated, neighborhood information systems. All of the NNIP local partners have built advanced Geographic Information Systems with integrated, recurrently updated information on neighborhood conditions in their cities--a capacity that did not exist in any U.S. city a decade ago. This breakthrough became possible because (1) most administrative records of government agencies (for example, on crimes or births) are now computerized; and (2) inexpensive GIS software now exists that can match the thousands of addresses in these records to point locations, and then add up area totals for small geographic areas (such as blocks or census tracts),

The indicators in these systems cover topics such as births, deaths, crime, health status, educational performance, public assistance, and property conditions. Operating under long-term data-sharing agreements with the public agencies that create the base records, the partners recurrently obtain new data (annually or more frequently in some cases), integrate them into their systems, and make them available to a variety of users for a variety of purposes. Their accomplishment demonstrates that, while never easy, it is quite possible today to overcome the past resistance of major public agencies to sharing their data in this way.(45)

Action agendas and democratizing information. The way NNIP partners use their information is even more innovative. Their core mission is to support action agendas that will facilitate change (not just to create data and research for their own sake), and they use data as the basis for forming collaborations among stakeholders toward that end. Their focus is on improving conditions in distressed neighborhoods. Their operating philosophies are captured by the phrase democratizing information. They see their role as getting useful and reliable information into the hands of relevant local leaders and other actors (at the community and city-wide levels) and helping those actors use it to change things for the better. Their work has already had important practical benefits and, as their data and techniques improve, they offer the potential of yet more substantial payoffs for the effectiveness of local governance and civil society.

Benefits of a "one-stop shop." One of their most attractive features is the way they work as a one-stop shop. What happens today in most cities is extremely inefficient. Most community groups and service providers now recognize the need for data, to prepare winning grant applications if not to prepare more effective plans. Some city representatives we have interviewed describe the scene as one of a large number of local players constantly "falling all over each other," all spending a great deal of time and effort trying to assemble the woefully inadequate data that are presently available, but with none of them able to take on the task of building an adequate system on their own. Assigning that task to one intermediary (individual institution or partnership) and getting an adequate system built will of course entail some cost, but it is almost sure to represent a net savings in relation to the resources so many local groups are now spending on data with such unsatisfying results. And this is to say nothing of the substantial benefit that should be realized with all users having access to much richer and higher quality data than have been available in the past.

Unbiased intermediaries, focusing on the public interest over the long term. Another feature is important in this regard. Most NNIP partners are independent nonprofits. Because they are outside of government and sponsored by community foundations or other institutions whose missions are to support civic improvement over the long term, they are not seen as being aligned with any short-term political interests. This has put them in a position to earn and maintain the trust of a broad range of local stakeholders (including the many agencies that recurrently provide them with data). They make extra efforts to keep that trust: rigorously checking and cleaning data, maintaining strict protocols to protect confidentiality, and guiding users to avoid misapplications and misinterpretation. A basis for their work has been their ability to convince the data providers in their cities that all are better off by sharing data (through an unbiased intermediary) than by keeping it to themselves.

Becoming locally self-sustaining. The NNIP partners are also characterized by their pragmatism. Technical advances have allowed them to dramatically reduce the costs of data assembly, analysis, and communication. And, while they never charge neighborhood groups for their services, they bring in income to cover part of their operating costs by providing information and research to other users who are able to pay for it. Operating costs are modest. While several received funding from national foundations to get started, all either are or have definite potential to become locally self-sustaining over the long term, through a mix of fee income and general support from local businesses and foundations.

THE WORK OF THE PARTNERSHIP

NNIP was formed in 1995, with six original local partners and the Urban Institute acting as coordinator. After a reconnaissance and planning phase during that year, it began implementing its work, with funding primarily from the Annie E. Casey and Rockefeller Foundations.

NNIP operates as a learning community. Its benefits stem primarily from semi-annual partnership meetings at which the partners share stories of their recent experiences and accomplishments and discuss current problems in their work. The direct meetings are supplemented by one-on-one follow-up conversations. These interactions are the basis for subsequent work (by partners and Urban Institute staff) in developing guidebooks and other tools for use by others, conducting cross-site analyses, and using what they have learned as a base for helping others develop capacity in this field. The activities of NNIP can be grouped in two categories.

Developing tools and other products: (1) a variety of tools (guidebooks and other products that document methods and techniques); (2) cross-site analyses of local conditions than enhance our understanding of neighborhood change nationally; (3) the regular updating of established national databases, with subsets made available to all partners.

An active program to disseminate what is being learned: (1) an electronic mailing list and web site, http://www.urban.org/nnip (with tools and reports that can be downloaded); (2) semi-annual partnership meetings; (3) NNIP conferences for broader audiences; (4) frequent presentations to interested groups around the country; and, to a limited extent so far, (5) direct technical assistance to help groups in new cities get started in building NNIP-type capacities.

NNIP Products, Tools, and Data Systems

1. Tool building. Because they are the most experienced practitioners in this field, we believe the participants in NNIP are uniquely well-equipped to prepare materials that will help others develop similar skills and to advance the state of the art. In this activity, NNIP has worked to develop and field test a variety of tools: databases, how-to handbooks, training curricula, web sites, reports, and other products. The approach has entailed work in three topical areas: (1) building databases as tools for community collaboration and action; (2) building community capacity to use data effectively; and (3) building indicators of neighborhood health and change. So far, 14 products have resulted from this work--listed in the Publications section of the web site.

2. Cross-site studies. The NNIP partners have always used their data in support of better policymaking in their own cities and metropolitan areas. NNIP's ability to assemble the partners' data in one place (see discussion of the National Neighborhood Data System below) and examine how the dynamics of neighborhood change vary across cities can offer important insights for national policy.

Two NNIP studies exemplify the potential. The first, Turner, Rubin, and Delair (1999), examined contrasts between the spatial distributions of vulnerable welfare recipients and of entry-level job openings in five NNIP metropolitan areas (modeled on the Cleveland study in the Stories publication on the web site). This work was the first to show that, beneath a veneer of similarity, the welfare-to-work challenges in different cities are markedly different in scope and character. The second study is described in this report.

In addition, a cross-site work that did not involve data analysis has become one of NNIP's best-selling publications: Stories: Using Information in Community Building and Local Policy, a compendium of 28 brief case studies on successful applications of neighborhood data by community and city-wide groups to achieve practical objectives.

3. Building the National Neighborhood Data System and analyzing neighborhood change. The system has two components. The first contains a core set of comparable census tract-level indicators, covering the 1990-2000 period, drawn from the systems of the local partners. The second integrates information from seven national data sets, mostly at the census tract level, for all parts of the country. In the 1990s, this component was used to create a set of metropolitan profiles for the 100 largest metropolitan areas and to develop a series of neighborhood profiles in cities chosen by the Casey and Rockefeller Foundations.

In 2002, NNIP incorporated 2000 census data in the form of the Urban Institute's new Neighborhood Change Data Base (NCDB). This is the only dataset that contains nationwide tract-level data from each census from 1970 through 2000 with consistently defined tract boundaries and variable definitions (work sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation).

As new data files are added to the national system (or updates made to existing files), subsets are created for each of the partner's metropolitan areas and sent to them. The system has also been used to prepare data starters' kits (compilations of data from all of the Component 2 files) for new cities that are trying to develop NNIP-type capacities. Starters' kits (data and documentation on compact disc) have been prepared for Baltimore, Camden, Des Moines, Hartford, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C.

Dissemination: Facilitating Awareness and Learning

1. NNIP News and the NNIP web site. NNIP operates NNIP News, an electronic mailing list that has grown rapidly since its initiation. It is designed to keep interested individuals up to date on innovations in the field and to provide opportunities for interaction. Urban Institute staff members regularly submit news items and summaries of new developments, and practitioners submit questions or issues for collegial input and response. The mailing list has proven to be a valuable tool for obtaining advice rapidly and connecting practitioners involved in similar work. The number of subscribers has grown to 394.

Through its web site, http://www.urban.org/nnip, NNIP provides information on neighborhood data systems, neighborhood indicators, and the work of the various partners (all NNIP tools and reports can be downloaded from this site). The web site serves as a clearinghouse for information about neighborhood indicators and a point of contact for those interested in connecting with other practitioners engaged in similar work.

The web site was expanded in 2002 by incorporating a much more frequent series of news entries in its "What's New" section, and by adding a new section called "Neighborhood Change in Urban America," which includes information about the Neighborhood Change Database and the results of research using that database.

2. Semi-annual partnership meetings. NNIP members meet at least twice a year, most often in Washington, D.C., at the Urban Institute. These meetings include updates on the work of the various partners, special presentations on topics of common interest or developments in the field, and discussion of NNIP's joint projects and future agendas.

3. NNIP conferences for broader audiences. NNIP has convened three special conferences for practitioners and others interested in neighborhood indicators and their application. In October 1998, in collaboration with the National Community Building Network, NNIP convened a conference on neighborhood indicators in community building (135 participants, including NNIP partners, practitioners working on fledgling indicator systems in 11 other cities, and representatives of national agencies and interest groups). In July 2000, with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, NNIP organized a conference attended by 130 participants on new information technologies, including GIS and other software (similar types of participants but with representatives from 40 cities). In November 2001, NNIP (jointly with the Urban Institute Neighborhood Jobs Initiative project) convened a conference that focused on conducting community surveys (90 participants).

4. Presentations to interested groups. Urban Institute and NNIP staff frequently make presentations on NNIP--how it works, its implications, and its potentials--to national and regional conferences of groups interested in community building, local policymaking, and social indicators. A total of 57 such presentations have been made since the start of 1997; an average of 9 per year, 14 of them in 2002.

5. Direct technical assistance. Both Urban Institute and NNIP partner staffs have provided direct technical assistance (TA) to help groups in new cities get started in building NNIP-type capacities. TA topics have included setting up a new institution for these purposes, the technical aspects of developing a data warehouse, designing and applying indicators, and conducting community surveys.

The provision of this assistance has been limited by availability of funds, the time constraints of partners, and the match of practitioner needs with partners' expertise. However, since NNIP began, on-site TA has been provided to groups in seven cities: Baltimore; Camden, New Jersey; Des Moines; Hartford; Miami; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C. In addition, one-time presentations have been made to interested groups in six others: Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Louisville, New Orleans, and San Antonio.

NNIP LOCAL PARTNERS

Atlanta: Office of Data and Policy Analysis (DAPA), Georgia Institute of Technology (http://www.arch.gatech.edu/~dapa)

Baltimore: Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) (http://www.bnia.org)

Boston: The Boston Foundation and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (http://www.tbf.org)

Camden, NJ: CamConnect, (http://www.camconnect.org)

Chattanooga: Southeast Tennessee Neighborhood Information Service (SETNIS), a project of the Community Council and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (http://www.researchcouncil.net)

Cleveland: Center on Urban Poverty and Social Change, Case Western Reserve University (http://www.povertycenter.cwru.edu)

Denver: The Piton Foundation (http://www.piton.org)

Des Moines: Human Services Planning Alliance (affiliated with the United Way) (http://www.humanservicesplanningalliance.org)

Indianapolis: Social and Vulnerability Indicators Project (SAVI), a project of the United Way Community Service Council and the Polis Center (http://www.savi.org)

Los Angeles: Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (NKLA), Advanced Policy Institute at the University of California Los Angeles (http://nkla.sppsr.ucla.edu)

Louisville: Community Data Center (a project of the Community Resource Network, affiliated with the United Way) (http://www.crnky.org)

Miami: Community Services Planning Center of South Florida, Florida Department of Children and Families (http://www.state.fl.us/cf_web/district11)

Milwaukee: The Nonprofit Center (http://www.execpc.com/~npcm/)

New Orleans: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (affiliated with the United Way of Greater New Orleans) (http://www.gnocdc.org/)

Oakland: The Urban Strategies Council (http://www.urbanstrategies.org)

Philadelphia: The Reinvestment Fund (http://www.trfund.com)

Providence: The Providence Plan (http://www.providenceplan.org)

Sacramento: Community Services Planning Council (http://www.communitycouncil.org)

Seattle: Epidemiology, Planning and Evaluation Unit (EPE) Public Health--Seattle and King County (http://www.metrokc.gov/health)

Washington, D.C.: DC Agenda (http://www.dcagenda.org)

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