Lessons from Asheville: Solving community problems with data

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Wed, 2017-01-11 12:15 -- Compassionate C...

An interesting piece in the Citizen-Times highlights the work that members of Code for Asheville are doing to help solve problems in their community – using data to better understand challenges and pinpoint need. The article suggests the dynamic changed when the group of civic hackers started getting out into the community to see and hear about problems firsthand rather than inviting the public to come to them. It's a lesson others may find valuable. – Liz Enbysk


Since 2011, Code for America has brought tech industry professionals together to help local governments serve their communities better. Today there are hundreds of chapters. And now those chapters -- like Code for Asheville -- are focused on working with governments to help improve the lives of millions of underserved Americans.

They use the tools of the digital age to make it happen.

In Asheville the civic hackers are working with a number of nonprofit groups, providing data to help them advocate for the needs of the people they serve.

"A lot of community groups are now seeing data as the big missing piece in the work they are doing,” Code for Asheville member Patrick Conant told the Citizen-Times. "We help them get it, analyze it and see what the data shows about the stories they are hearing."

Enabling solution-oriented approaches
Here is one example from the North Carolina city. Working with a homeless service provider and using data obtained through public records requests, Code for Asheville found citations had been issued to 8,800 possibly homeless people in a 10-year period – nearly half of them for second-degree trespassing.

With Asheville experiencing a housing crisis, punishing people waiting for help – or criminalizing homelessness -- makes it even harder for them to find a place to live, suggested the Rev. Amy Cantrell, executive director of BeLoved House.

"Data allows organizations to say, 'This is really happening, this is what we’re seeing on the ground,'" Cantrell said. “It lets you be solution-oriented. We understand the problem better because we have numbers and we can see it over time."

Partnering with the city
As the Citizen-Times explains, Asheville's civic hackers also work closely with the city. In fact, some Code for Asheville members work for the city. One joint effort involved helping formerly incarcerated people find jobs and housing once they get out so they aren't forced to live on the streets.

Related resources…
Smart Cities Open Data Guide (registration required)
Hard data and warm hearts: A formula for ending homelessness

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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