Sarasota County residents will soon have a digital dashboard to measure their quality of life

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- by WUSF

From WUSF News, December 28, 2021

Using massive amounts of anonymous public data, New College’s Applied Data Science students are working with Community Foundation of Sarasota County to build a tool to help decision-makers find out what the community needs.

New College of Florida and Community Foundation of Sarasota County are working together to create a digital dashboard to better understand the community they serve. Working with nonprofits in sectors that serve the environment, arts and culture, health and education, among others, CF Sarasota Vice President of Knowledge and Equity, Ranata Reeder says her organization wants to use information gathered by New College’s Department of Applied Data Science for good.

“We want to take data so that people can make better informed decisions and community-minded choices,” she said. And this data will help Community Foundation of Sarasota County better understand the community and its needs. And help the organization measure the impacts of its investments. The data will be collected for Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto Counties.

Burcin Bozkaya, Ph.D., the director of the Applied Data Science Program at New College, says this two-year program brings together graduate students from a variety of disciplines to come and study data science, while building this community indicators dashboard, that “shows a lot of metrics about our immediate community here in Sarasota, and in surroundings, in Manatee County…is essentially trying to understand the composition of the community.”

He said they could be health indicators, access to housing and transportation, access to education, “And generally speaking, socio economic well being in the area.”

He said most of the data will be gathered from public sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Such data, gathered by NCF students for the dashboard and mapped using census track helped the Community Foundation of Sarasota County discover that life expectancy in one Bradenton neighborhood is “20 years below just a few miles away in Sarasota County,” Reeder said. “So, with that, we can then guide our grant-making and our investments to say, ‘Okay, should we be supporting more health nonprofits in this area?’ What can we do to inform our investments to ensure that some of these disparities that we’re discovering with the data cease to exist, or can we work on reducing those?”

Reeder is quick to point out that this is a collaborative community project. “We held community listening sessions with nonprofits for them to communicate to us what they would like to see in the data and what would be useful for them, because we really want this to be a community tool that everyone can use.”

Reeder said they are hoping to launch this community indicators dashboard next summer for everyone to use. And in the meantime, they will be doing testing and working with community members to make sure they’re involved while the digital dashboard is being built, so they can provide feedback.