March 18, 2008

A Map is Worth 1000 Pictures

Kathy Pettit (Research Associate with the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership) and John Stern (Executive Director of Nashville's Neighborhoods Resource Center) were guests today on a topical call hosted by Grassroots Grantmakers. The topic was "Connecting Grassroots Groups to Data: Lessons form the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership".

John made two points that I flagged as particularly important.

John talked about ground truth - what people who live in an area know about their community. He talked about the power of connecting data and ground truth. He noted how close ground truth often is to what the data says is happening in a community. He talked about sharing the intersection of data and ground truth with code enforcement people or police officers or university data crunchers, and how this intersection can help these well-intentioned outsiders really believe for the first time that neighborhood residents have something to contribute - that they really are the experts on their community.

He also reminded us that a picture is worth 1,000 words, but that a map is worth 1,000 pictures.

His statement reminded me of a time before GIS-era mapping when I was heading up the Center for Neighborhoods in Memphis, and in a desperate hunt for maps that neighborhood groups could use to see spatial relationships in their own communities. I finally sweet-talked my way into one map - one map that hung in OUR office and I guarded with my life!

In these days of GIS and public access to data that we only dreamed about in those dark ages, how powerful - and ridiculously easy - it would be for a funder to see that every neighborhood grantee has easy access to maps. Big maps to post on the wall of the neighborhood meeting place. Maps that people can draw on, stick things to, and use to chart progress of all kinds. Special maps that are designed to inform thinking on special issues. Maps to kick-off planning of all kinds.

When we think about the big things, let's not forget the easier, but powerful things, like maps. And, remembering that the neighborhood residents that we are funding with our grassroots grantmaking programs have special expertise that cannot be found elsewhere.

Thanks, John, for these reminders. With grassroots grantmaking, we are funding experts - with ground truth that makes the data come alive. And, as funders, we have the power to make help big things happen with a phone call. Like maps.

No comments:

Post a Comment