May 17, 2018

Uniting through data, discussion and collaboration

People watching presentation at data symposium.

While Southeastern Michigan unemployment numbers continue to drop, wages have stagnated. The median household incomes for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have fallen 22 percent since 1999. While the state has experienced six straight years of small population growth, nearly 600,000 people still live in poverty within the tri-county area.

These statistics and more were shared with 150 nonprofit partners May 9 during our first Data, Discussion and Collaboration Symposium. The event was held at Wayne County Community College.

“It’s important that we deepen our interactions with community agencies to better meet the needs of those we serve,” says Donna Satterfield, Vice President of Community Impact at United Way. “This symposium aims to leverage the organization’s data capabilities and strengthen partnerships among service delivery agencies to more collaboratively and effectively change lives for the better and for the long haul.”

And that’s one area our Research and Learning department is working to expand upon. It focuses on how to use data to aid our partners and inform our work within the community.

The team, headed by director Terry George, uses multiple vetted community reports to highlight community-level data impacting families. These include ALICE – United Way’s representation of those in our communities who are working yet still struggling to make ends meet – and the U.S. Census. Prior to the symposium, we also released a community-wide survey to hear directly from Southeastern Michigan residents. More than 1,500 respondents took part in the survey, and the results were presented during the event.

Kurt Metzger gives presentation at data symposium.

Kurt Metzger, founder of Data Driven Detroit, presents during the symposium.

“All of these sources give us a lot of valuable statistics,” Terry said. “Our survey added another layer of insights from those we serve, which is invaluable. Numbers are great, but it’s important that we ask people about what’s important to them.”

Along with the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions and Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, the symposium included presentations by more than 20 partner organizations, including The American Red Cross and Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, as well as Data Driven Detroit and University of Michigan researchers. The event also provided a place for nonprofits to network and swap ideas.

Strong relationships

Ryan Hertz and Jenny Poma, CEO and COO of South Oakland Shelter, respectively, co-led a presentation titled “South Oakland Shelter’s Journey to End Homelessness.” The duo are firm believers that strong relationships within the nonprofit sector are critical.

“Events like these don’t come often, and it allows us to rekindle connections and use each other as resources,” Ryan said. “We can share data, but we can also share how we are going to use that data to impact the future.”

During their presentation, they shared strategic approaches to homeless services and housing solutions. They also shared data that they’ve gathered from their past eight years working at South Oakland Shelter.

“The fact that United Way reached out to us to do a presentation says a lot. United Way treats us as an equal, and they care about what we have to say,” Ryan said. “That’s important when you want to create positive change in your community. You have to have funders that trust your ideas.”