Not only did we build a tool that fosters collaboration and partnership across school stakeholders in Detroit, but the way our organizations worked together demonstrated a new, more sustainable and empowering approach to public and nonprofit partnerships.
Detroit Public Schools Community District and United Way for Southeastern Michigan Put Partnerships on the Map
Everyone benefits when schools, businesses, and nonprofit organizations collaborate to support learning. Individual partners are strengthened, supported, and even transformed as a result of school-community partnerships, resulting in improved program quality, more efficient resource use, and better goal and curriculum alignment. Collaborations like these are critical to support student learning through access to resources and programs.
Across the country, there has been tremendous growth in deliberate efforts to forge meaningful partnerships between schools and external programs that provide after-school activities, summer enrichment, basic needs for families, etc. A shining example is in the Motor City, where Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), Michigan's largest public school system, partnered with United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a regional nonprofit organization that works with public, private, and nonprofit partners to advance equitable communities where households are stable and every child can thrive.
Implementing GIS to Organize and Analyze Data
DPSCD approached United Way for Southeastern Michigan in 2019 to discuss how it could share community partner information with its stakeholders more effectively. Information about the district's vast array of partners was disorganized and inaccessible, making it difficult for parents and other stakeholders to leverage. United Way for Southeastern Michigan worked with the district to create an interactive ArcGIS Online map for internal and external use. Together, they used geographic information system (GIS) technology to do the following:
- Enhance the data management platform and process
- Engage the community
- Improve transparency with school partners, students, and families
- Make opportunities for students more equitable
- Organize internal data
GIS provides a mission-driven enterprise solution that supports market research, field operations, communications, and public engagement. It also improves the effectiveness of employees across organizations. GIS provides users with the foundation for discovering and leveraging authoritative data, collecting and analyzing their own data, and analyzing their program strategy. Using a geographic lens transforms a cause from a gut reaction to a call to action.
Sharing Information and Knowledge to Maximize Impact
The DPSCD Partnerships Office manages relationships with organizations of all sizes that provide in-kind and financial support for students and schools. Prior to the partnership, DPSCD was not able to grant access to and evaluate its community partner data efficiently. United Way for Southeastern Michigan organized the district's existing partnership data into a web-based map with ArcGIS Experience Builder, which provides a single platform to organize, manage, and transform the district's data. This tool was selected for its user-friendliness and accessibility, and the resultant Community Partner Map makes school-based programs and partner data readily available to stakeholders across Detroit, including families, school administrators, and community leaders. The interactive, web-based ArcGIS Online map can even be used to identify where donor and grant resources should be allocated in order to provide students and families with equitable access to programs and resources.
The original Community Partner Map was built in United Way for Southeastern Michigan's web space, but collaborators in both organizations recognized the need for it to transition into DPSCD's system. This required a great deal of learning for DPSCD's Partnerships Office, and United Way for Southeastern Michigan provided training to increase end-user capacity and create a data ecosystem that could be maintained without advanced technical knowledge. DPSCD's ownership of the map encouraged innovations to meet emerging community needs and produced a more sustainable, functional, and sector-specific tool. According to Adam Kind, who manages DPSCD's Partnerships Office, "Eric Suter [of United Way for Southeastern Michigan] not only built the original Community Partner Map but also contributed to the project's sustainability by developing a GIS training program that engaged both of our organizations in a thoughtful, professional learning environment."
The DPSCD-United Way for Southeastern Michigan collaboration serves as a model for cultivating additional end users and promoting innovative solutions for organizations looking to democratize—within the confines of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)—data access, which reduces administrative burdens and directly increases community impact. "Not only did we build a tool that fosters collaboration and partnership across school stakeholders in Detroit, but the way our organizations worked together demonstrated a new, more sustainable and empowering approach to public and nonprofit partnerships," said Brandon Lee, executive vice president for strategy and operations at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Experience Builder improved access to information by fostering collaboration, diversifying the user base, and supporting unique tools that go beyond the scope of geographic data.
Using Location to Put Students First
United Way for Southeastern Michigan used GIS to make DPSCD's partner data more accessible to a wide range of stakeholders in the education sector and the broader Detroit community. The map they created serves the local educational system, but the project has deeper implications for equity and social justice. As a result, it fits within the disciplines of both education and social impact.
The interactive ArcGIS Online map includes DPSCD schools and partnership programs across a wide range of areas—academic support, college and career readiness, educator excellence, family resources, fine arts, mentoring, and physical and mental health, to name just a few.
"In many ways, equity is at the heart of this project. The Community Partner Map makes our data available to anyone in and outside the community, revealing where programs are right now and where they are most needed in the future. ArcGIS Experience Builder makes it easy to sort and view partnerships by type and location, which sparks important conversations with partner organizations seeking to maximize their impact," said Kind.
The DPSCD-United Way for Southeastern Michigan collaboration through GIS resulted in a mapping tool that does the following:
- Connects families to support services made available through district agreements
- Indicates how partner programming is distributed across Detroit
- Shows potential program overlap in specific areas of the city
- Provides exposure for a diverse range of community partners
- Increases end-user capacity and data access
- Encourages collaboration between people, organizations, and schools with shared goals
Combining their expertise, DPSCD and United Way for Southeastern Michigan created a new system that benefits the community in myriad ways. This approach could be replicated by other school districts and across different sectors in which geographic data visualization can facilitate more democratic communication of information to stakeholders. "The power of this project is not just the impact it has in Detroit, but also the possibilities it opens up for other districts and partners," said Lee. "We look forward to pursuing opportunities to expand this work." ArcMap and ArcGIS Experience Builder are very flexible and allow users to add new elements at any time during the process, making them useful tools for overcoming numerous challenges encountered by many nonprofit organizations.