SCOPE provides a peek at a new, powerful research tool

The SCOPE logo/via Facebook

The organization called SCOPE – Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence – has collected statistics for more than a decade. The numbers have been compiled into annual Community Report Cards. But the organization wants to do more with its massive data collection. A lot more.

On Thursday, Aug. 16, SCOPE leaders held a morning-long meeting at the Robert Taylor Community Center called “Community Data 2.0.” About 50 people attended. Representatives of the media came and went as more dry statistics – pages and pages of them – were passed around.

Only in the last 20 minutes of the meeting was the real purpose of the program unveiled. SCOPE, along with a number of partners, is planning not only a massive increase in the amount of data it wants to make available, but, more importantly, it wants to use a new, user-friendly format.

Participants in the SCOPE meeting engage in discussion. Former Director Tim Dutton is at the rear of the room, wearing the blue-striped shirt. Photos courtesy of Pola Sommers

The working name is “Sarasota Community Platform.” It will make its first appearance in the late fall, said SCOPE’s former director, Tim Dutton. One of the partners in the project is the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

The institute is compiling large databases from the county Health and Human Services Department, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and the Sarasota County School Board. The City of Sarasota has already volunteered reams of its statistical data.

“No community in the nation has done this before, with an online neighborhood focus,” said Allison Pinto, who is directing the effort.

Drilling down deep

Allison Pinto

As described by Dutton and Pinto, a user would go to a website – the exact name has not yet been picked – and click on a neighborhood in Sarasota County. A new screen would display a map of the neighborhood on one side, and a list of general categories on the other.

For example, a user could select the Alta Vista neighborhood just east of Payne Park. A map would pop up, and the user would select the “education” category. The map would stay up, and a new list of more specific categories would appear. The user then could select “third grade reading scores.” The neighborhood school’s success rate would be available year over year.

The example with Alta Vista Elementary reading scores is useful, because the school accepts not only students from the surrounding neighborhood, but also children bused from Park East and Newtown. Using SCOPE’s tool, instead of accepting the school’s overall yearly grade, neighbors could learn how their children were doing in reading.

Think about the possibilities of expanding upon those results with data from city and county offices, the Sarasota Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the Health Department, the School Board and yet other statistics. All of the information will comply with appropriate privacy laws; each agency and department is voluntarily joining in the effort.

“It’s a collaboration,” said Dutton. “If it’s not owned by the community, it won’t endure.”

Right now the project will tap into the 180 different areas SCOPE has been tracking in the past decade. It will include not only high-level information such as total population counts and demographics, but it also will segment that information on a block-by-block basis. For another example: Who’s registered to vote in your neighborhood? It’s only a couple of mouse-clicks away.

Much of this information is already available to an experienced user of the Internet. The voter database, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office’s database and the census information are there, but average residents can be daunted in searching for details. With the new SCOPE system, the search should be intuitive.

Dutton says the organization has been working on this for two years. Next month the collaborators will meet to decide the future of the project, including whether to continue using the Urban Institute or seek another group, and whether to include the function within SCOPE itself.

The “go live” decision on the website will come after the collaborators review the progress of the program.

“We have worked for more than a year to find out what data is available and how to knit it together with relevance,” said Pinto.