Launched in 2010, Neighborhood Nexus (http://www.neighborhoodnexus.org), a community initiative of The Community Foundation, is preparing to become the “one-stop shop” data source for information on communities in metro Atlanta. We sat down with Tahmida Shamsuddin, the new director of Neighborhood Nexus, who shared the latest on this growing metro area resource.
What interested you about Neighborhood Nexus and the position of director?
I worked in economic development for Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) for about nine years. During that time, I had gotten to know Alicia Philipp through her board work with CAP. When this opportunity came about and I started learning more about it, I was impressed with the depth and breadth of work of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. I also felt a kinship with Neighborhood Nexus. It resonated with me from the user perspective of trying to find information on metro Atlanta in my previous position. I understood the challenge for residents and community leaders to access the best information on a specific place of need in order for them to be most effective in their efforts. Neighborhood Nexus is an effort to empower residents and organizations and to impact policy by gathering and using information to address critical community issues. I believe in making good data available to people who want to help improve their neighborhoods and communities. I am passionate about this, which is why I was so interested in leading Neighborhood Nexus.
What is Neighborhood Nexus and what are the mission/goals of the program?
Neighborhood Nexus is an online, comprehensive information resource that empowers community leaders and decision makers to improve the quality of life in the region. Our mission is to provide data and indicators to show how communities operate in metro Atlanta. Importantly, we want to make data collection simple, so nonprofits and other groups can invest 90 percent of their time analyzing it versus 90 percent used to collect it.
Our goals are to be the source for current and accurate neighborhood level data, to foster informed community problem solving, and to data drive community decision making.
Why is Neighborhood Nexus the tool to use to accomplish these goals?
We are not a policy organization. Neighborhood Nexus is neutral. Therefore, we can be a trusted data source. Neighborhood Nexus is designed to build the capacity of our community and to provide critical data for the region to understand its issues so these issues can be addressed more effectively. The use of information and analysis from Neighborhood Nexus will begin to change the region’s decision making to a more data-driven model. Better decisions and policy will result.
Who are your target audiences for Neighborhood Nexus?
We are looking at individual leaders, advocates, decision makers, nonprofits, community development corporations, government agencies and community civic and neighborhood leaders for a start.
How exactly did Neighborhood Nexus come to be?
Neighborhood Nexus launched June 2011. This is when the core collaborators for this endeavor were solidified. The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta saw the need for neighborhood leaders to have better information about their communities to determine their interests and take innovative actions to address them. At the neighborhood level, there is a need to build resources for the communities, nonprofits and their leaders. Thanks to a partnership with The Community Foundation, the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, seed funding led to a formal collaborative effort of five core partners: the Atlanta Regional Commission, Emory University’s Office of University Community Partnerships, Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, the Civic League for Regional Atlanta, and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Neighborhood Nexus has a shared staff model with each core partner providing a specific role. We have three staff members, including myself, who were hired by The Community Foundation which is serving as our fiscal agent.
The main “product” of this collaboration is the website, www.neighborhoodnexus.org. This is a free, web based, community information system that has data, maps, analytical tools and reports. Neighborhood Nexus is now building its “data warehouse” by forming relationships and data sharing agreements with government agencies that collect data. There are more than 300 variables or data points on our website right now. Once our “data warehouse” grows, we will redesign the website around how best to organize and present all of these data points.
What type of data is Neighborhood Nexus collecting and sharing?
We are looking at a variety of objective data with a focus on health, wealth and education at the neighborhood level. We are analyzing the data to create baseline information and are tracking community trends through our website, www.neighborhoodnexus.org. This community information system has data, maps, analytical tools and reports.
Once the data has been gathered, then what?
Neighborhood Nexus will monitor the quality of life at the neighborhood level in metro Atlanta. Neighborhood Nexus also seeks to inspire public conversation and collaboration on important issues affecting communities by developing a common set of indicators over time. We have launched a community outreach program and training to help community residents and leaders become comfortable with data, while learning how to use and analyze data for smart decision making. Through these sessions we are beginning to better understand user needs while connecting residents with leaders and the foundation community.
What efforts is Neighborhood Nexus making to serve counties outside the core metro Atlanta area?
We are making a concerted effort to reach counties outside of the few core counties like Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb. That’s why we are partnering with the Civic League for Regional Atlanta. It can be challenging to get granular data beyond the county level in these areas. That type of information is just not as readily available for neighborhoods and communities outside of the core counties. There are place needs and agency needs to identify and address. For example, a place need could be identifying a neighborhood where the immigrant population is growing. What types of services and providers are needed in that community as a result? How many community centers are now needed? In terms of agency needs, say an agency wants to know what parts of metro Atlanta have the largest number of single parent households in order to determine where agency services could be of most use. By looking at indicators such as income levels and education through Neighborhood Nexus, members and leaders of communities, nonprofit organizations, civic groups, government agencies and more can make informed decisions on how to move the needle to help address significant neighborhood issues.
Neighborhood Nexus is shaping up to be an extremely useful tool that can empower individuals and organizations to create positive change in metro Atlanta communities. I encourage any interested person or parties to follow our progress and to engage in their communities by visiting our website, www.neighborhoodnexus.org.
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