A look back at our 2024 Convening

 The 2024 Convening Report is now available

In March of this year, nearly 70 leaders from 40 data-driven policy organizations gathered in Tempe, Arizona for the second annual States for the Future In-Person Convening. This convening was an opportunity for learning, collaboration and sharing of resources among nonpartisan, non profit organizations that are leading with data and research to drive state policy conversations.

Over the course of three days, participating organizations engaged in interactive discussions, heard from experts in plenary and breakout settings, and connected with like-minded colleagues from other states during networking events and meals. Attendees and speakers included organizations working at the state-level to advance data-driven policy in their states, national advocacy groups, philanthropic leaders, university researchers, and representatives from business and economic development entities. 

For those that were not able to join us in person, our 2024 Convening Report provides an overview of the event and attendees, a summary of what is next for the States for the Future network, as well as key takeaways and materials from over a dozen plenary and breakout sessions. 

We intend for this report to serve as a resource for organizations that are looking for practical strategies for developing policy solutions, building coalitions, and implementing data-driven policy in their states. 

If you have questions about any of our sessions, please reach out at info@statesforthefuture.org
To stay up to date and get involved,  join our mailing list, follow us on LinkedIn, or register to attend one of our Monthly Virtual Discussions.

Analyzing and Communicating About State Budgets – May 2024 Virtual Community Discussion

Our May Virtual Community Discussion spotlighted how two data-driven policy organizations analyze and communicate about their respective state budgets. To kick off the session, our speakers, Mandy Spears of The Sycamore Institute and Jason Stein of Wisconsin Policy Forum, shared the many ways their organizations engage in budget analysis. Though both the Sycamore Institute and Wisconsin Policy Forum create different types of reports and analysis, they share the approach of “zooming out” to provide context and implications of their state’s budget.

The Sycamore Institute achieves this through publishing deeper dives on bigger initiatives, mid-fiscal year trackers and budget recommendations, and a “primer” (a textbook on the budget) every gubernatorial election.

Wisconsin Policy Forum publishes reports that compliment the exhaustive analysis that similar organizations in their state produces, and focuses on interpreting the implications of their state’s budget on “big ticket” line items through visuals and simple language.

Key Takeaways:

  • Creating fair, non-partisan budget analysis builds trust with policymakers and the public alike, and can get your organization invited into new conversations. Offering budget analysis that is both helpful to and at times critical of both sides of the aisle builds trust in your organization and a reputation for being truly non partisan. This helps maintain your organization’s influence regardless of who is in office. In other words, don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle.
  • Compelling storytelling and visuals are the most effective means of communicating with stakeholders. Providing just the numbers of the budget will not create the impact your organization is looking for – instead take your audience by the hand and explain what the budget means, and the implications that policy makers can learn from and use in their own efforts.
  • Tailor your organization’s budget work around what is already available in your state. Creating work that is duplicative to what is already available will not help you make an impact. Instead, offer analysis that is unique. For example, if another organization in your state writes comprehensive budget analysis, try creating complementary work that translates the key facts into shorter and/or more accessible language.
  • If you want to get involved with budget work, you can start small. Most of a state’s budget dollars are allocated toward just a few major budget categories. You can focus on just those few items to cover most of your state’s budget, and may spare you from engaging in policy areas your organization doesn’t otherwise wish to tackle.

Slides from the virtual community discussion may be viewed here. To view a recording of the presentation portion of the VCD, please use this link.

Using the States for the Future Data Platform – April 2024 Virtual Community Discussion

This month, our Virtual Community Discussion explored how data-driven policy organizations can use the States for the Future data platform. Speakers Dr. Holly Heard of Texas 2036 and Dr. David McClendon of January Advisors, both of whom were instrumental in all phases of building our platform, highlighted new features and data, including four new indicator areas launched this month! (Infrastructure, Government Performance, Natural Resources, and Justice and Safety)

Our discussion began with Holly and David providing background on how the indicators were selected and explaining the key ways that data-driven organizations can leverage the SFF data platform in their work:

  1. Serving as a trusted data source that offers vetted, up-to-date data that can generate summary visualizations, downloadable tables, or linked via API to power your own tools.
  2. Providing context and comparison to illustrate not just trends in your state but how they compare with other states and the nation as a whole. This includes multiple ways to disaggregate the data. 
  3. Connecting with peers using the organization profile feature to find others who are focused on the same policy areas and may be able to advise, brainstorm, or partner with.
  4. Act as a launchpad for prototyping your own tool – select indicators you want to display and share with partners or funders via the Organization Profile URL OR use the API as a reliable data source as you develop and launch your own tool

Followed by a tour of the platform, attendees saw how to use the indicator explorer, access the API, and create their own organizational profile

For the last 30 minutes of our discussion, attendees asked questions of Holly and David and each other. Three main lines of inquiry emerged during the conversation:

  • What skills are needed to create a data tool? What is the right balance between in-house and vendor or researcher expertise?
  • How can these types of platforms support smaller organizations or government entities with the time consuming work of wrangling and maintaining data?
  • Can data tools generate enough revenue for organizations, like nonprofits, to self-sustain or partially sustain themselves? How do funder priorities impact the development of a data product? How can we sustain the States for the Future data platform? Should certain features be gated through a log-in or have a cost to access? 

Many of these topics are covered more in-depth in our newest network resource, Building Quality Data Products. Please contact the SFF team at info@statesforthefuture.org if you are looking for thought partnership in building your own data product!

Thank you to all the new and familiar faces who joined this month’s virtual community discussion and shared their knowledge, thoughts, and comments. It was wonderful to reunite with many after our in-person convening in Tempe! 

You can access the materials from this virtual community discussion here:

Building Quality Data Products – A States for the Future Community Resource

States for the Future is excited to share its newest Network Resource: Building Quality Data Products. 

As data-driven policy organizations, one of the most effective ways to impact policy conversations happening in our states is by making data and analysis accessible and meaningful to decision makers and community members. 

Quality data products—such as dashboards, infographics, dynamic data visualizations, calculators, simulators, interactive maps, etc.—can serve as a starting point for shared facts, bring clarity to complex problems, and support policy analysis and goals. 

But creating quality data products requires organizations to invest in not only the build, but also ongoing maintenance and efforts to drive adoption and use of a data product.  In this resource, we discuss the Purpose, People, Build, and Action best practices that can lead to success, as well as tips, resources, and links to other products peers have created for inspiration. 

Leveraging the expertise of States for the Future organizations and Network partners Ajah and January Advisors, Building Quality Data Products builds on the robust conversations during our “Building Data Products” breakout session at our 2024 Annual Convening in Tempe, Arizona. In this session, and in many of our monthly virtual community discussions, Network members have discussed the common challenges and considerations that nonprofit, data-driven policy organizations face when making decisions about building data products. This network resource attempts to address many of those questions, including:

  • Should I create a data product? What type of data product should I create?
  • What should I look for in a vendor?
  • Will people use my data product?

We would love your feedback on this Community Resource! If you have any comments or want to brainstorm on your own data product, please let us know at info@statesforthefuture.org.