It is an accepted fact that data informs our everyday actions. We constantly depend on data and information to guide both major and even minor decisions. Everything from city governments leveraging big data to improve public transportation systems, to you checking the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) of your Uber driver to determine when to put your coat on is driven by data and information. Yet there seems to be a frightening disconnect in leveraging this same data power to tackle the stubborn issue of exclusive tech ecosystem growth. Last year, I completed a five city tour across the country from Pittsburgh to LA meeting with tech and community leaders to explore this phenomenon. Every single city was experiencing dynamic tech growth, but it was not inclusive growth. Meaning that the majority of citizens were not empowered to contribute or benefit from the momentum. This widens the digital divide and social inequality gap at an ever accelerating pace making it difficult for companies looking for diverse talent, and for leaders seeking to improve their communities. The leaders I met with acknowledged the issue, but were completely stumped on how to make change. I was left to ponder why it was so challenging to improve the situation even with awareness, and the power of data at our disposal. It was not long until my obsession with this situation finally led me to a conclusion on what needed to happen and how.

I believe that actionable data is the missing key to more effectively stimulating inclusive tech ecosystem growth. The stark reality is that getting this information is “easier said than done” due to inherent complexities and the significant resources required. While some data exists, there still is a huge insights void that prevents this challenge from being adequately understood and resolved. This lack is especially prevalent for the black community and its engagement in tech, which is where arguably the most need exists and the most impact can be made. To bring actionable data and change to life, we must find a way to collect better data, formulate deeper insights, and activate coordinated action toward solutions. We need better data. Right now, there is some for the black tech community, but it isn’t the right type to evaluate and cultivate healthy black tech ecosystems that boost entire communities. For example, prior to Black Tech Mecca’s 2017 State of the Black Tech Ecosystem report no one was able to provide an estimate on how large the black tech ecosystem was in Chicago or anywhere else for that matter. Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) industry and occupation data is not broken down by race, instead most government data sources often bucket all minorities together or not at all. Long story short, we need better data. The first step is asking the right questions that define the community, its success, and how it all can be measured. So there is a need for dedicated initiatives that will ensure the required data to measure the health and progress of the black tech community is being collected.

Once better data is obtained, the formulation of deeper insights is enabled; this is where the work really begins. The raw data must be diligently analyzed to identify trends and key insights that will inform growth strategies and initiatives. There must be additional questions selected that can guide this analysis. So there must be an underlying framework that defines success and the related measures, which enable the data to tell a story and provide insights. At Black Tech Mecca, we define the black tech ecosystem across three main tracks: academic, corporate, and entrepreneurship. However, without a comprehensive framework to evaluate these three areas, it becomes difficult to make use of current data and decide what additional information needs to be collected. Thus, we developed the BTM scorecard to fill this void and provide a systematic method of measurement. Establishing a framework makes it easier not only to guide data collection, but to also translate more directly into action. All the data and insights in the world are no good unless it can be leveraged to influence impactful action. Sometimes the numerous challenges of a tech ecosystem can be overwhelming, therefore, framework based solutions that help prioritize are vital to get everyone on the same page and moving forward together. Once you have a framework with the adequate data inputs, it becomes much easier to prioritize competing interests to mobilize and make impact. And the most beautiful thing about it is that the impact is measurable since it is based on a framework. So, no more blind action or shots in the dark; say hello to a new era of data driven solutions with measurable outputs. This is a critical part to driving collaborative and coordinated community action.

My cross country trip last year was inspiring and thought provoking. I am thankful for the experience because it helped me to better understand the challenge of exclusive ecosystems and how to drive change. Our best hope for achieving inclusive tech ecosystem growth starts with actionable data. We must find a way to get better data, go deeper, and take more coordinated action. We all know that information is vital, but we have to start putting our resources where our mouths are. Significant brain power and money must be invested if we are ever to capitalize on data to progress on this formidable challenge. If you want to be apart of a data driven movement then you can start by asking yourself these two questions. Are you using actionable data to inform your strategies regarding tech inclusion? What is your organization’s investment strategy to help produce actionable data that drives inclusive tech growth and improves our communities?

Fabian Elliot
Founder and CEO, Black Tech Mecca
fabian@blacktechmecca.org

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