New United Way website makes local data more accessible

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Local United Way staff unveiled a new website filled with data on Hastings and Prince Edward counties, which they say will raise awareness and help agencies secure funding.

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After approximately five years in development, the Community Indicators Project brings together data from sources such as Statistics Canada, the Hastings Prince Edward Data Consortium led by Hastings County, and health care providers.

“We really think local data is so important. This helps create consistency; it educates the community; and it really helps planners make better, more informed decisions,” said Jodi Cooper. She is the Director of Community Impact for United Way Hastings and Prince Edward.

Not only will the site give anyone using it a better understanding of the region, she said, but it will provide agencies with the evidence they need for funding applications to governments and organizations.

“It helps local organizations and service providers speak the same language” when discussing local needs, Cooper said. They are then able to create plans to meet those needs.

The interactive website aggregates information on demographics, basic needs, economy and more in one place, with users able to select information by municipality and more.

“In today’s data-driven world, the lack of timely access to relevant data can be a real challenge,” epidemiologist Yvonne DeWit said in a United Way press release. She served as the project’s consultant and gathered data, sorted definitions of terms used, and more.

“She was a big, instrumental part of all of this,” Cooper said.

“In particular, I was inspired to contribute to the Community Indicators Project because it connects decision-makers to the data they need to plan and implement programs that strengthen our communities,” DeWit said in the release.

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Whatever information is needed, “it’s important that we have access to credible data that helps us understand our community’s pressures and priorities,” adds Brandi Hodge, Executive Director of United Way. She notes that the website shows the context by listing local and provincial numbers.

The website development project began with a working group of United Way and Child and Youth Services Network agencies. It originally focused on children and young people and included both grassroots outreach activities and professional research.

It is now only a Centraide project and its reach extends to the whole community.

“The site is going to give us some benchmarks,” Cooper said.

“We will continue to measure the health of our community over time.”

Ongoing data collection will help establish trends, and not just where gaps or service gaps exist.

“It also helps us identify and celebrate where we’ve been successful,” Cooper said.

“We actually used the site for the last call for United Way HPE funding proposals.

“It’s already amazing in the work we do.”

Cooper said sites of this type are believed to be relatively rare: no similar local websites were found during the process.

“The website does an amazing job of not only telling us what it measures, but also why it matters to the life of our community. I really think this will give us a head start.

She said there haven’t been any big findings as the data has been gathered: United Way workers are already in regular contact with local agencies. But having statistics presented in such an accessible way is valuable, she said.

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There is still room for improvement, however.

“The gaps are still being identified and there is a feedback button on the website,” Cooper said.

She said mental health is a discipline that will hopefully be added in future updates, and the 2020 National Census results are still being released by Statistics Canada.

The website will be updated as new information becomes available, Cooper said. She added that bigger updates could happen every two to four years.

“We are looking for partnerships to expand it.”

The site address is communityindicators.ca. To view the data, click on the “dashboard” button and select the topics that interest you.

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