A Data Nerd’s Quest to Make Boise Better

Editor’s note:  The following is a guest post to Northend.org. From time to time we will give individuals and organizations the space to tell their story. These are the “what, why, when and how” from people who love our community and are committed to doing the work they feel is needed for positive change and progress. 

He founded two companies to help Boiseans find better solutions

By: Cameron Crow, founder of MakeBoiseBetter.com and BoiseAnalytics.com

Cameron CrowI love the North End. I grew up in Garden City, but I never fell in love with Boise until I moved to the North End in 2013, near 8th and Fort (in the Mayor Bieter’s sister’s basement, actually).

I loved the tree-lined streets, casual culture, walking and biking, and of course the Co-op (I ate there a little too much, if that’s possible). I loved that I didn’t need to own a car, though there were some snowy days where it was less lovable (more laughable).

I especially loved what I felt was a subculture of political activism. I graduated with a political science degree from BSU, and worked in Washington DC for a year, but I never felt a passion to be involved and work on local issues until I was rubbing shoulders with my “hippy-dippy,” “granola,” “tree-hugging” neighbors.

As a data nerd, I think about the world through facts. When I have an idea, I want to find the relevant data to see if it’s true. When I don’t have any ideas, I want to find the data anyway to see what I can learn. Naturally, I wanted to use data as a way to engage civically in Boise. I was inspired by Code for America and their open data philosophy. I thought, “Why don’t we do something like that here?!”

I founded Open Boise then to partner with the City on publishing data openly so Boiseans could use it to learn and help solve problems. I pulled a small group together, we even had some meetings with the City’s IT Department, but it eventually lost steam. Not too much later, I moved to San Francisco and worked as a business analyst at Prezi.

San Francisco was a great learning experience. I got the “mecca of technology” experience I wanted, picked up cutting-edge skills, and learned more about civic engagement as well. But after a little over a year, my girlfriend (now wife) and I realized we really wanted to lay down roots in Boise.

Fast forward to 2017, I’m back, am working as a senior analyst at Kount, and I’m looking for new ways to get involved in the community using data. With the help of a few introductions, I spent the year volunteering for Treasure Valley Education Partnership.

It felt amazing to apply my skills to the work that they were doing, and it really filled a need they had. We were able to use data at a level never previously imagined by their leadership. And from conversations with their executive director, I learned that many organizations need this support, but there’s usually no way for them to get it — it’s too expensive to hire for it, and volunteers are few and far between. Bingo! Sounded like an opportunity to me.

At that point I started Boise Analytics to solve that problem. We make expert data analysis accessible to small and medium-sized organizations by connecting full-time data professionals with clients for affordable part-time projects. Over the last 8 months, we’ve helped over 3 dozen organizations.

And while all that was happening, I would regularly fantasize about a day when a powerful person like the mayor or governor would recruit me to apply ground-breaking techniques to help them know what most people really think about important issues at any given time. Imagine how powerful that could be!

The idea kept coming back to me. Eventually I realized that this is something I could start on my own, and there was no reason to wait! That’s when Make Boise Better was born with the goal of using weekly surveys, results, and analysis to show what Boiseans think about those important issues and to help local leaders use the data to find better solutions.

We’re giving a voice to Boiseans that aren’t being heard today. Don’t get me wrong, the City does community engagement activities regularly, but they’re usually in person, limited in size, and they only reach a small fraction of the engaged or “want to be engaged” folks out there. With Make Boise Better, anyone can get involved if they have 3 minutes a week to take our short, 10 question surveys that we send through email.

And it’s also solving another major problem locally: market research. In the same way that I found out that small and medium organizations were priced out of analytics, virtually every local company is priced out of market research.

It turns out there isn’t a Boise-focused research panel. If learning deeply about your customers or constituents is something you want to do, you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars, usually bringing in an out-of-town firm, and you’re often not getting great results. Alternatively, we’ve designing what we think is the perfect solution: a Boise-focused research platform that gets better results at a fraction of the price.

At the core of what we’re doing is the desire to make Boise residents and leaders better informed about important issues. We think that makes for a healthier, more-empathetic community that’s able to focus more on solutions and make a difference.

It’s still early days for Make Boise Better, but we have a great group of early adopters that regularly weigh in on the issues. The more people join us, the better our results will be, and the bigger impact we can have.

If this sounds up your alley, please join us! And share it with your family and friends.

Boise is a fantastic place. My hope is that Boiseans’ passion for making things better only grows. My advice is to look for facts whenever you can, and try to understand others’ points of view. If we do that, I think we’ll keep getting better and better.

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