Data’s not sexy (to most people… nerds like me are the exceptions). HARC provides research and evaluation services, and I’ve yet to say that sentence and get a response like, “Oh my god, how amazing!” or “It must be so rewarding!”. No, most people’s eyes glaze over when they hear the word “data”.
But data really does do wonderful things. Not on it’s own—if you do a study, write a report, and stick it on a shelf somewhere, all you’ve really done is waste time and resources. If, however, you share that information with amazing people who take it and run with it, magic happens.
Here’s an example from our work. We do a community health survey for our region, and one of the topics covered is food insecurity. Food insecurity is a terrible thing—no one should have to be hungry. Our data demonstrates that there are thousands of people in our area who have to cut the size of meals or skip meals because they don’t have enough money to pay for food. That’s a serious community problem.
Thankfully, we have some amazing local organizations that work to address hunger in the region. One local senior center, Mizell, provides a “Meals on Wheels” program that delivers meals to home-bound seniors. A lot of these seniors are isolated—the driver is their only contact many days. Mizell provides over 70,000 meals per year at no charge. This requires substantial grant funding to maintain.
The trouble is, Mizell is located in Palm Springs. Many funders from outside the area hear “Palm Springs” and they automatically think of rich, white retirees playing golf. This image doesn’t exactly scream, “we need assistance!”, and so funders are a little skeptical.
The reality is, there’s some truth to that stereotype. Let’s be honest, there are thousands of healthy, wealthy elderly people here (and they do play a lot of golf). But there’s also thousands of low-income seniors, many of whom are food insecure and in desperate need of food distribution services. Our data helps Mizell to quantify this need, and share this “hidden story” with funders. By using our data to accurately describe just how many seniors are food insecure, Mizell’s requests for funds to support their Meals on Wheels program are suddenly much more compelling. Armed with this data, Mizell is able to obtain the funds to support the Meals on Wheels program, and these seniors are able to eat each day.
So no, data doesn’t excite many people, but it really does do some amazing things.