The Tale of Two Organizations.

What makes a strong community? Economic stability? Educational systems? Accessible Healthcare? Low crime rates? Quality of life initiatives? I’m guessing one (or more) of these five traits is something important to you. According to the Source for Siouxland and Growing Community Connections, these are the five areas where focused improvement will produce a positive impact. 

The Five Focus Groups are: Economic Stability, Education, Health, Safety and Quality of Life

Growing Community Connections (GCC) and Source for Siouxland work together and the work is very interwoven. GCC is the communication arm and Source for Siouxland is the data arm. Data needs to be communicated and focused goals need data. It is a wonderful match, led by Erica DeLeon and JoAnn Gieselman.

The two entities engage in work referred to as “collective impact”. Collective impact is the notion that working together we are stronger than working independently. For a region that has a plethora of small non-profit organizations, the strength of collective impact is immense. Evidence of that impact is noticed when data is used to set goals and measure progress toward them.

Source for Siouxland was born out of Comprehensive Strategy, an effort to collect data on positive youth development. Over time, the focus of data gathering has expanded; largely because youth development is related to so much more – economic factors, food security, employment, etc. Each year the organization put together and published a data book that compiled all the data one might need for grant writing, program development, and so on.

Growing Community Connections grew out of a desire to bring people serving organizations together in a way that encouraged communication and collaboration. The group meets monthly and before the pandemic, was nearly outgrowing the meeting space. Since March of 2020, the group has used Zoom and Facebook Live to involve 100-150 partners in the discussion.

As Growing Community Connections set strategic goals for positive community impact, it became obvious that data was needed not only to measure progress but also to determine the areas of need in the community. 

Gieselman said, “as the years have progressed, the stories of Growing Community Connections impact weren’t enough. Funders and participants began to need more than the feel-good impact stories – they wanted data to show working together was helping the community.”

At the same time, DeLeon explained, “Source for Siouxland was looking for a way to make the data more useful. We had a ton of data, but just publishing a book of data didn’t seem like enough anymore. We wanted to use it to drive change.”

So, the conversation began two years ago, now five community focus groups have been established. “These five groups zero in on a specific social determinant of our community’s well-being. Using the data from Source for Siouxland, we can analyze what they think is happening and set strategic goals, then create action plans.” said Gieselman.

“It is a circular process. A goal is set because of some data; then we look at what specific data can help us measure progress. We incorporate analysis of data now, not just reporting data,” added DeLeon.

“The data comes from everywhere. Some of it is proprietary from Siouxland Cares surveys of middle/high schoolers since 1999. Some is from the US Census, state Departments of Education, Economic Development, Chambers of Commerce, Public Health, police chiefs … basically anything tracked by a reputable source can be gathered and put together,” stated DeLeon.

“Putting it together is extremely important in our Tri-State area,” Gieselman added “We need information from multiple sources to tell the whole story of our community. It helps to keep us accountable and to identify gaps we may not have expected to see or ask analysis questions we wouldn’t have thought about previously.” 

“The annual data showcase is designed to do just what JoAnn mentions,” DeLeon remarked. “We want people to look at the data book, and now we’ve started including some “did you know” data points at each month’s Growing Community Connections meeting too. The idea is to get people talking about data, thinking about it and using it to focus efforts.”

The community-wide “0-3 Prime Age to Engage” initiative came out of a focused analysis of data regarding school readiness and health benchmarks. “People’s mouths literally dropped when they saw the trend,” said DeLeon. 

As a result, a focused multi-agency action team was assembled. In less than 3 years, more than 70 partners have engaged, and the community has won national recognition for the collaboration. While it’s just a little too early to see movement on the school readiness data; the impact is immense. You will find free books in scores of lounges and waiting rooms across the area – books kids are encouraged to take home with them. Billboards, commercials, and pediatricians are all promoting interactive play, talking, and reading to children age 0-3. This is the epitome of collective impact – together we achieve more than we do individually working in isolation.

“Four states have a collective impact similar to this. In Nebraska, we meet as a state and a nation-wide group to look at what solutions are and what works. Data and collective impact work are important parts of it,” Gieselman added. Both echo – “we truly are stronger together.”

Growing Community Connections is open to anyone. Check out their Facebook livestream the first Thursday of each month at 10 a.m.

Compilations of Tri-State data on everything from COVID-19 diagnoses to miles of trails and number of social clubs can be viewed at

By Dr. Cyndi Hanson

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