Data’s more complex, but institute still helps you interpret it

During 2014, Americans became more aware than ever of the steadily growing role of data in our lives: a role that is influencing what we buy, shaping our connections with others, directing government policies and, through social media data-mining, making even our private behavior a commodity up for sale.

Here at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, as I review our 2014 highlights, one common denominator is clear. We’re using data in increasingly complex ways to – paradoxically – help make public understanding of policy issues simpler. Whether it’s our use of sophisticated databases to track longitudinal trends around education, housing affordability and the economy, or our public engagement work such as our annual Data Day conference to help demystify data for our community partners, it’s clear we’re moving into a new era of data accessibility. And that is transforming how we do our work.

Yet in many ways the enhanced technology that makes so much more information available to us, changing how we disseminate our analysis to the public, is merely that – a technological improvement. It helps us do what we have been doing since the institute was founded in 1969. We’ve always been dedicated to using research and the university’s resources to help the public understand policy issues and make sense of complex information.

As we share this year-end review of institute highlights, we hope it brings home to you our continued commitment to that historic role, and that it also demonstrates how serious we are about always embracing technology to keep our work meaningful and relevant for the times.

—Jeff Michael, institute director

Greeting new collaborations, sustaining existing partnerships

CONNECT Our Future: The institute is winding up the third year of participation in this large, three-year, federally funded project that has used extensive community engagement to create a regional growth vision for the 14 N.C. and S.C. counties in the Charlotte region. The institute’s role has been to create a list of indicators to measure progress toward the vision over time. A new CONNECT website will be rolled out next year. Click here to see a sneak peek, available on the main CONNECT Our Future website.

Education NC: In a new partnership, the institute is working with a new, nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide group that will offer news, information and analysis about public education. The site, Education NC (, launches Jan. 12. The institute, building off its data visualization work with MeckEd, will provide weekly maps and data dashboards to highlight relevant statewide education statistics.

National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP): The institute and its partners at the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were invited to join the NNIP, a national learning network of nearly 40 partners that maintain neighborhood and integrated data systems and that encourage the use of data in local policymaking and community building. The invitation recognized the work by the Institute for Social Capital (ISC) and the city-county Quality of Life Dashboard. The 2015 dashboard will debut in January.

Data partners: As part of our Regional Indicators Project, the institute works with five community groups, offering data research tailored to the needs of each group. Each partner has an online portal at our website. (Visit the portals here.) Those partners are: Council For Children’s Rights, Gaston Together, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, MeckEd and UNC Charlotte’s Women + Girls Research Alliance.

Student opportunities: The institute regularly offers opportunities for students to get professional work experience in connection with their studies. In 2014, our work benefited from the assistance of 12 graduate students and four undergraduates, from academic colleges and departments including Computing and Informatics, the Public Policy Program, Geography and Earth Sciences, Communications, History, Sociology and Anthropology.

From conferences to neighborhood walks, the institute reaches out to the community

Data Day: In partnership with the Federal Reserve of Richmond’s Charlotte Branch, Mecklenburg County government and the City of Charlotte, the institute sponsored its second Data Day conference in June. Open to the community, Data Day 2014 explored housing data and trends and drew 178 housing experts, government analysts, nonprofit leaders and others. Planning is underway for the third Data Day in spring 2015.

KEEPING WATCH: For a three-year partnership with the UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture, the institute and its online publication are highlighting different sustainability issues for 2014, 2015 and 2016. For 2014, the focus was plastics and recycling, with the project offering online informational articles, art exhibits and film events that included panel discussions. For 2015, “KEEPING WATCH on WATER: City of Creeks” will spotlight Mecklenburg County’s urban streams. The multidisciplinary, multimedia approach blends research in history and science with art exhibits, photography and public events in spring, coinciding with online publication on

Jane’s Walks: once again sponsored Jane’s Walks the first weekend in May, but thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation we were able to expand to six walks. Jane’s Walks are a global event to encourage people to organize walks in their neighborhoods, something urbanist writer Jane Jacobs would have encouraged. The 2014 Jane’s Walks took place in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood, South End, Enderly Park, Hidden Valley, Revolution Park-Clanton Park, and among east Charlotte’s ethnic restaurants. Co-sponsors were Levine Museum of the New South, the UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture, Charlotte Museum of History and North End Partners.

New scholar, new network for the Institute for Social Capital (ISC)

ISC scholar: The Institute for Social Capital (ISC), an integrated community database that in 2012 became part of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, announced the recipient of its first faculty research grant: Dr. Mason Haber, assistant professor in the UNC Charlotte Department of Psychology. The faculty research grants provide funding to UNC Charlotte faculty for research projects using data from the ISC Community Database to address problems in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. Haber will use the grant to help with his project, Adult Outcomes of Youth Formerly in Public Behavioral Health Programs: The Role of Transition Services.

Membership in the Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP) network: The ISC became the first site in five years to be invited to join the AISP network. The network, based at the University of Pennsylvania, includes sites that are leaders in the field of integrated data systems. AISP’s aim is improve the quality of education, health and human service agencies’ policies and practices through the use of integrated data systems. Those data systems are designed to help leaders in municipal, county, and state government evaluate and establish effective programs for the people they serve.

ISC, through collaboration with nonprofit groups and governmental agencies in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, holds data from multiple agencies in one integrated database so that researchers can study community issues that cut across different institutions and agencies.

Other centers at the institute

CTPS: The Center for Transportation Policy Studies, an associated center at the institute, researches transportation-related issues and policy. Current research includes a multiyear project to develop pre-disaster mitigation plans for all 58 community colleges in the state community college system, the first such statewide community plan in the nation. In addition, the center is conducting the 2014 traffic safety survey of Carolinas municipalities for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. CTPS has conducted the surveys for 10 years.

TIMS: Also housed at the institute is Transportation Information Management Systems (TIMS), which works with 55 school districts in western part of North Carolina to help them use computer programming to create and manage school bus routes. N.C. school buses travel more than 1 million miles a year, transporting 750,000 students. Learn more at To download the statewide TIMS report for 2013-14, click here.