Slowing Down and Asking Questions
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Kelly Rehberg, Regional Planning Fellow, reflects on her past year of service with the Resilience Corps and how she's been incorporating data and mapping into community outreach.
I love data. I specifically love data visualization and the awe-inspiring maps and charts created from data. I love the potential for knowledge, outreach, and awareness these tools produce. I love the creativity and ingenuity involved but also the organized structure. Many people enjoy data. Think about the amount of data we have at our fingertips—smartwatches that tell us heart rates or number of steps, phones that tell us length of screen time, and social media apps tracking the number of likes.
Yet, part of me detests how much I love data. Sometimes I think we could solve so many problems if “we just had more data”, or if “people just understood the information.” Data can do amazing things, but what is the point of clamoring for more data if we don’t even know what we’re missing or how to meaningfully use what we’re already given. When your phone tells you to get up and move, do you listen or just lament the fact that once again you’re inactive? How does having any of this information affect your decision making? Much of the data we collect, and the cool visualizations we create, are worthless if we don’t know how to use it to create change.
As I reflect on my year with the Resilience Corps, a common theme runs through my role from numerous projects: Community engagement. Community engagement is an essential component for any planning project. In fact, if you’ve read many of the other Resilience Corps blog posts, you’ll see similar trends. While data is a great tool for community engagement, it might require education, experience, or technology not accessible to all. So as much as I love creating great visualizations, these tools can be rendered meaningless if we can’t find a way to engage more people from diverse backgrounds.
I’ve particularly enjoyed incorporating data and mapping into community outreach. I helped a town develop and distribute a survey and crowdsourcing map to help shape their comprehensive plan. It is exciting to see who and how people respond to the survey and collecting lots of information can better shape the town’s future. However, the challenge lies in extracting meaning from the results. And even harder to incorporate all the input into a plan that lays out actionable steps—but it is worth trying.
For Connect 2045—the region’s long-range transportation plan—GPCOG is taking a new approach with the Question Campaign. Instead of a standard survey, we are turning the questions to the community and asking what they want to see in the future. The goal is to get as many questions as possible, but if we just keep hearing from the same people, is more really better? It has been exciting going to farmer’s markets, bus stations, and street fairs across the region to get new perspectives and reach people who might often feel unheard.
So often are we looking for the next big thing, or constantly striving to get something more (or better), that we often forget to ask questions and find meaning in what we have. Have we reached our intended audience? Is the data reflective of the whole community? Does everyone understand what it means? Whether we are creating data visualizations or writing plans; sometimes we need to slow down and evaluate how we effectively use the information we already have. How do we stop constantly planning and collecting, but instead synthesize and take action. This forces us to find new ways to reach out to the community or apply data within our projects.
I’m still going to love data visualization. I still think it is important to collect lots of input. And I still strive to involve the community. But I’m learning the importance of slowing down and recognizing that it is not always about more but rather about meaning.
About Kelly Rehberg
Kelly has hometown roots in both Durham, NC, and Milwaukee, WI, but she has called Portland home for the last two years. She has a master’s in Geography from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s in Environmental Geoscience from the University of Notre Dame. After grad school Kelly worked as an environmental planner for a large engineering company but was looking for a change. She is excited to connect with and have an impact on her local community here in the Portland area through the Resilience Corps, and she looks forward to helping communities problem-solve and plan for a sustainable future. Outside of work Kelly enjoys playing Ultimate frisbee, globetrotting, baking, playing board games, hiking, and enjoying anything outdoors. While her ultimate frisbee season and traveling plans unfortunately got cancelled thanks to the pandemic, the past few months have been filled with delicious desserts, beautiful Maine hikes, picnic dinners and many cozy nights at home with a warm mug of tea in hand and a new board game on the table.