The New Generation of Data Tools: Metro Atlanta Racial Equity Atlas

Author: Elizabeth Burton
Date Posted: August 22, 2023

The Metro Atlanta Racial Equity Atlas (MAREA) is a new data tool that focuses on how systemic racism affects neighborhoods and individuals’ experiences. It combines storytelling, interactive maps, and calls to action while equipping users with advocacy and decisionmaking tools.

Neighborhood Nexus partnered with the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement and the Partnership for Southern Equity to develop MAREA through a collaborative development process. With extensive experience in building online data tools, Neighborhood Nexus facilitated a discussion about content and features with MAREA’s diverse steering committee, which included grassroots organizations and local funders. In particular, the committee made critical decisions related to user experiences of the tool. Neighborhood Nexus then spearheaded MAREA’s neighborhood data collection and communication, including with state and national sources. They also incorporated past community efforts into the platform, linking to other dashboards and indices in the Atlanta region. The cross-sector process culminated in the Racial Equity Atlas’s launch in September 2022 at an event with more than 200 social sector leaders across Metro Atlanta.

The tool presents narratives of people with lived experiences alongside indicators, maps, and accountability tools, recognizing that data are incomplete without lived experience. Neighborhood Nexus leveraged stories from Canopy Atlanta, a local journalism publication that works with residents to write stories about their neighborhoods. Using StoryMaps, Canopy Atlanta’s resident narratives weave history and community data to portray a holistic view of residents’ lives and aspirations. For example, a story about the declining Hispanic population in Forest Park, a city south of Atlanta, combines demographic data mapped by census tract with personal narratives. The story shares how the overpolicing of undocumented residents in Forest Park led to mistrust and the subsequent displacement of Hispanic residents. These stories and data provide context and motivation to spur local action through MAREA’s accountability tools.

Partnership for Southern Equity is helping train more than 60 residents and stakeholders to use the tool through the recently launched MAREA Ambassadors Program. The trainees will share how to use MAREA with their networks and colleagues to expand the tool’s use. The United Way of Greater Atlanta started using MAREA in its place-based programs after members of its community action teams went through the training. The Atlanta Firefighter Foundation also intends to use the tool for station planning to ensure neighborhoods are equitably equipped with emergency medical services. City and state government officials are interested in the tool, and one Georgia state senator plans to use it to inform communities and advance policies.

MAREA represents a model for a new generation of data equity tools, contextualizing data with lived experience and connecting users to action for greater impact. The collaborative process between Neighborhood Nexus, Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement, Partnership for Southern Equity, the steering committee, and residents exemplifies how to build a tool with an equity lens. MAREA’s combination of storytelling and calls to action grounded in understandable data provide government officials, community members, and nonprofit stakeholders an accessible tool to advocate for an equitable and just Atlanta. Neighborhood Nexus’s data, regional expertise, and deep partnerships will continue to advance regional data tools and support communities.

This story was written by Elizabeth Burton at the Urban Institute, with the support of Nikolai Elneser from Neighborhood Nexus and Kim Addie, the Director of Place and Neighborhood Initiatives at the United Way of Greater Atlanta. NNIP is a learning network, coordinated by the Urban Institute, that connects independent partner organizations in more than 30 cities. Neighborhood Nexus is the NNIP partner in Atlanta, Georgia.

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