Wading Through a Sea of Bad News

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 12:00 am

by Carol Thompson Cole

In this day of 24-7 media, information flows nonstop and infinite reams of data can be crunched in seconds. Yet I am sometimes shocked by how very little we know, even about what’s going on in our own neighborhoods. Information is power, and while research and data might not seem like the most exciting projects to fund at the outset, the results can be turned into knowledge to catalyze action, collaboration, policy change, and movements.

When VPP was founded, its first released report summarized the state of children and youth in the National Capital Region. The findings gave a stark picture of the region in the early 2000s — approximately 100,000 children lived in poverty at that time and half of those lived in the District of Columbia and Prince George's County. The rates of children receiving free or reduced lunch were climbing, primarily in D.C. and Alexandria, Va.

Fast forward 10 years. The regional landscape looks much different today but unfortunately, too many of the negative trends we were predicting for children and youth are coming to pass.

In this decade, VPP and other organizations have undertaken new efforts to improve our region, but we have also experienced 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008. We need a new baseline, a current understanding of what's happening with our children that we can use going forward to know just how much progress we are making.

This time, we know we cannot undertake this research alone. The problems that the region faces are bigger than VPP. We need input from others who deal with these challenges. The action sparked by the research must be truly collaborative. With support from 10 funding partners, we are beginning research that will help us get a complete, accurate, and current picture of the status of children and youth in our region, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

Data and information can help us convene and catalyze others and sound a "call to action" that hopefully will be heard across the region. But unless we put the research to use in our work in an intentional way — using it to focus our strategies, drive data-based decision making, create a cycle of continuous improvement, and develop a platform for collaboration — it will be just another research report in a sea of bad news.

Carol Thompson Cole is president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners. This post has been edited from the VPPNews column, "Investing In Our Region’s Most Valuable Asset."

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