Take aways from the Civic Switchboard External Evaluator - Part 3

Final thoughts from our external evaluator Jake Cowan, an independent consultant who joined us in 2019 to provide insight to the impact of the Civic Switchboard project. See Part 1 and Part 2.

As Civic Switchboard’s core IMLS grant funding moves towards completion, two cohorts of funded library civic data field projects have been completed, along with two cohorts of attendees at in-person workshops. These participants, along with additional participants in community of practice calls, have built a national network of librarians and civic data practitioners that want to collaborate and share resources and knowledge.

Civic Switchboard has also developed tools and resources that give libraries who want to get started in civic data work starting points and examples of practices for engaging their local civic data ecosystems. These resources include the Civic Switchboard Guide, currently an online guide that is also being developed into a designed/downloadable publication. In the guide, a library of virtual and in-person workshop materials ​​ that require little or no prep or expert facilitation are available. These are materials librarians can use to host events and build energy for civic data work locally without needing to develop new content and workshop materials.

Building from these foundations, IMLS funded a Civic Switchboard Data Literacy project, which will help address one of the key barriers libraries experience when engaging in their civic data ecosystems - building data literacy capacity with librarians. There is also interest in the library field in continuing to grow what Civic Switchboard started – exploring and supporting the practice of libraries working in their civic data ecosystems – which was discussed on a recent Civic Switchboard community of practice call.

The following is an outline for programs of work that build on what have been successful elements of Civic Switchboard, as well as connect with needs in the field that have emerged through engaging with the library field.

Technical assistance to support library engagement in civic data ecosystems

The Civic Switchboard project team provided technical assistance to local library civic data partnerships virtually, and before COVID-19, in-person through workshops and local site visits. The project team added value to local partnerships through technical assistance calls to work through project ideas and strategies, and through introductions to peers and experts that informed their local work. In evaluation surveys and interviews, local library civic data teams said technical assistance was important to their success. A new program of technical assistance work for Civic Switchboard to support libraries engaging in their civic data ecosystems will help to make those local projects more successful and more connected to the library field.

Peer connecting and sharing resources

Since first offering workshops in 2018, a core element of Civic Switchboard’s work has been facilitating peer connections and the sharing of tools and practices among peers. Civic Switchboard libraries and civic data partners learn from each other, and borrow and implement ideas from one another. Libraries seeking to start or deepen their civic data work will need to continue to connect with their peers to accelerate their learning and bring emerging ideas to their communities. A new program of work for Civic Switchboard that creates virtual (and eventually in-person) spaces for libraries working on civic data projects to collaborate and learn from each other will help grow connectivity across the library field.

Communications about the value of library engagement in civic data ecosystems

While Civic Switchboard has been successful at sparking new local library civic data projects and creating connections among practitioners, there is more work to do to share the successes from Civic Switchboard’s work with the library and civic data fields. A communications push to spread awareness of Civic Switchboard examples of practice and tools that have been developed is an effective way to broaden interest and connect new libraries with the ideas and resources they need to get started. A new program of work that includes case studies, blogs, social media, and other content will introduce new libraries to civic data and give them starting points to engage with.

Funding for library engagement in civic data ecosystems

Investments in local library civic data projects are the most direct way to continue building out the Civic Switchboard community of practitioners and creating new examples of library civic data practices. The investments in field projects through Civic Switchboard sparked funded libraries to continue to grow their civic data practices even after their funding concluded. In many cases, libraries invested their own resources in their Civic Switchboard projects, extending the value of their grant funding.

Funding for implementing these ideas has not been identified, however. So atop these ideas for continuing Civic Switchboard, as part of Civic Switchboard’s next phase of work, partners and stakeholders that have invested in Civic Switchboard and want to see this work continue need to come together and make the case for and secure new funding.