LET'S face it, raw data isn’t sexy.
Most of us would much rather roll around in satin sheets than spreadsheets, and it’s safe to say that nobody’s sweet nothings contain inferential statistics.
But for those participating in the Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition, certain piles of numbers are not only compelling, they’re essential.
Launched in 2008 as a partnership between the City of Savannah, the Chatham County Commission and the United Way, CGIC has spent the past seven years collecting all kinds of data in order to identify the most pressing needs of community residents.
Now that information—comprising more than a hundred indicators, from local incomes to cancer rates to the number of school dropouts—has been collated and compared to other Georgia counties on an easy-to-navigate website.
All that input isn’t just someone’s idea of fun: The database serves as a foundation for elected officials and concerned citizens to create a “comprehensive, coordinated approach for planning and accountability” that most efficiently and effectively spends our tax dollars.
“All of this data is public information,” explains director CGIC Tara Jennings.
“What we’ve done is pull it together in one place in order to guide public policy and allocate resources in the direction residents want them to go.”
But public policy cannot be dictated by numbers alone. In the past two years, CGIC has hosted numerous neighborhood forums, sent out thousands of surveys and collected hundreds of personal stories that reinforce what most of us already know: That the issues of “place, race and income” and the disparities experienced therein are the root of most social and economic concerns.
“The data confirms what people are telling us,” says Jennings.
“Now the question is, how do we fix it?”
More than 250 people representing local businesses, agencies, non-profits and neighborhood associations packed a ballroom at Armstrong Center last week to help figure that out. Operating from a refined plan known as Chatham Community Blueprint 2035, participants discussed specific strategies and actions for four areas revealed from the data as core categories: Economic Independence, Education, Health and Quality of Life.
“We’re educating our medical students more about nutrition and other forms of preventative care,” offered Jennifer Boryk Ratner, faculty affairs specialist at Mercer College of Medicine in response to the high rates of diabetes in Chatham County.
“That helps the community as they apply it to their future practices as physicians.”
Talisha Crooks, the program coordinator for Step Up Savannah, heralded a living wage increase to mitigate poverty and underemployment.
“Chatham County has increased its minimum hourly wage for its employees, which is great,” says Crooks, who oversees Step Up’s apprentice program that provides literacy and career counseling to job seekers.
“But we still have a twenty-six percent poverty rate, and the key players to address that are in this room.”
Other attendees used the numbers to craft suggestions about vocational training, access to high-quality food and childcare, protection of natural resources and other ways to influence a positive, productive future.
The meeting was the second of three designed by CGIC to bring the blueprint closer to fruition.
“We’ve done the number crunching, and now it’s time to come up with a plan and implement it,” said Chatham County Manager Lee Smith, who thanked the crowd for their dedication to the process.
While Smith lauded the clarity and thoroughness in the effort to craft a long-range strategy for the 20 years, he also acknowledged that none of it is possible without those massive amounts of data.
“We’re selling ideas, and people won’t buy them unless they’re verified,” he said.
“It comes down to the investment. What do the taxpayers want, and what are they willing to pay for?”
Jennings notes that the data is lacking for two major concerns in Chatham County: Crime and mental health. SCMPD is not mandated to report crime statistics to the state; the same goes for mental health agencies, making it difficult to verify how the local numbers stack up against the rest of Georgia.
So what’s next for CGIC? Jennings says the coalition will continue to move forward by selecting key metrics to monitor the success of the blueprint and begin to develop possible strategies to achieve the goals set within each category. Implementation begins in January 2016.
“We’re still in the planning stages, and we want to incorporate all the pieces,” she says, reminding that CGIC meetings are open to the public.
“In January, we’re going to need all hands on deck.”