Monday, October 12, 2009

Better Information Produces Better Decisions-So Contact MCIC!

Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC)

17 North State Street Suite 1600
Chicago, IL 60602-3294

Several months ago I was exploring the internet for organizations in the nonprofit world when I came across the site for the Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC.) Although I was a strong math student as a kid, I was never one for the structure of statistics and processing different kinds of data. But as I read the description of MCIC, I did a little happy dance. (Well, not really-figuratively!) Here was an organization that gathered data, analyzed that data and provided all kinds of useful information and it was a nonprofit organization. At this point, I began to understand just how expansive the world of nonprofit organizations had become.

As I began to explore the website I developed a profound appreciation for MCIC and their value as an extraordinary resource. The website includes information that is difficult to find anyplace else without great effort. Additionally, I would have a deep concern about the accuracy of what I might find through other sources. On the home page of the site, there are links to maps, strategic planning resources, data on topics such as population, models on topics such as economic change in neighborhoods and a long list of publications and reports on a variety of topics. Much of the information requires membership but there is no charge to be a member.

I definitely wanted to learn more about MCIC. I contacted the organization and soon met with Joan Frankel, MCIC’s Senior Consultant for Health and Human Services. Joan told me that MCIC has 15 full time staff, but depending on the number of projects they are working on, their numbers can grow to 20-22 staff with the addition of consultants. MCIC generally works on projects that are either very quickly completed or span 18-24 months. They work with 75-80 organizations each year. Although the economic downturn has had some impact, many nonprofits are now applying for foundation and grant money to pay for MCIC services. The organization does no advertising and has survived for 20 years through word of mouth.

Whether looking at the website, their printed materials or speaking to Joan, the message comes through that MCIC is working to help organizations collect and utilize information to optimize their work. The organization was created in 1990 from a nucleus of an idea at the Commercial Club of Chicago. This statement on the MCIC website briefly summarizes the mission of the organization, “…MCIC works from a fundamental philosophy that better information produces better decisions.”  In other words, MCIC is able to collect and analyze information that provides a clearer picture of what is actually occurring. How often do nonprofit organizations make decisions based on what they think is probably happening or create strategies based on conventional wisdom, which may or may not be correct? Through data collection (qualitative and quantitative) and analysis, focus groups and creating maps, MCIC is able to create a complete picture of what is happening in the field, within a topic or neighborhood. MCIC staff are also skilled at taking that information and creating a strategic plan for the future.

MCIC works with organizations and institutions that primarily focus on the following five areas:

1. Arts, Culture and Tourism

2. Community and Economic Development

3. Financial Institutions

4. Government and Education

5. Health and Human Services

I found the list on their website labeled “Custom Research and Consulting Services” particularly helpful. Below is that list, some of which are commonly understood.  I have provided examples for any that are not:

Policy Analysis/Quality of Life Studies
From the website, “…to benchmark, track, and evaluate the effect of existing services and/or recently implemented social policy.”

Community and Regional Studies
To learn about the external market at the neighborhood, regional or national level

Organizational Studies
To strengthen organizations

Database Development
Identifying, compiling and analyzing

Key Informant Interviews
People with special knowledge in the area of interest

Face-to-Face Interviews


Focus Groups

Community Building Forums

MCIC is one of those community treasures that doesn’t sit in the spotlight of nonprofit innovation. But they are clearly a resource that is of extraordinary value to people working to make our community better. They are doing the work that allows the rest of us to be even more successful at what we do, whether we are at a nonprofit organization, a governmental agency or affiliate, or an individual trying to do our part. Their skills at data collection and analysis in a variety of forms and their ability to help an organization utilize strategic planning certainly
strengthen any organization’s impact. And their website is a tool that is an invaluable resource. I strongly encourage you to pass their information on to anyone who might have need for MCIC’s services.