Having worked with over 80 cities across the country, the first thing that users tell me, whether they are from the fire department, planning, or a landbank, is that when putting together programs they need to “meet people where they are” for their programs to be successful.
In general, there are a few ways that cities go about doing this. The first is to take knowledge they have gathered throughout their time working in a city and implement programs using these assumptions that they “think” are correct. For example, “everybody knows” the east side of the city is more wealthy, so there is no benefit to a community program there. Or historically the southwest has a larger rental population so a particular type of program will be most beneficial there.
Instead of relying on institutional knowledge, many of our partner cities have seen success using data to help them develop successful programs. Knowing that one area has the highest number of reported code violations, or one area has the highest number of fire related incidents, can be a key indicator of where a program might be more impactful. Of course, this second method is much better than the first, but the big question in this scenario is why does this event occur in one area more than another.
This is where demographic data becomes critical, because as important as the event data is, understanding the causation behind that event is just as important. When building a successful community program, in order to “meet people where they are,” you have to know them.
An excellent example of successful programming using demographic data is around fire prevention. While typical fire prevention programs involve firefighters visiting schools targeting children, according to the US Fire Administration, the highest fire death rate is adults ages 85 or older. By combining data on where fire departments are responding most, and demographic data to determine who is living in that area, communities may find that a different type of program, one targeted at older inhabitants in a particular area of the city, could have a big impact on preventing fire related emergencies.
For years, city planning departments have been using demographic data to make decisions and create impactful community programs. As I work with more and more cities, I see a gradual change in other city departments seeing the value of the “why” behind their data. By combining multiple sets of event based AND demographic data, our partners are creating more successful programs that have the best chance for a positive impact on their community.