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By Tianna Mañón
Data science has traditionally left Black Americans out and the result is centuries of faulty, inaccurate and even harmful information collected about communities across the nation.
However, FordMomentum!, a Black-owned, data-informed communications firm, is radically transforming and helping cities across the nation with a new methodology, called The Standard of Love, that collects, analyzes and actionizes data.
The Standard of love – or STOLO, consists of five pillars: literacy, values, economic power, self-esteem and justice. Based on bell hooks’ groundbreaking research, this methodology was created by FM! founder, Maya Ford.
It’s backed by MIT’s Data, Economics & Development Policy program and the system is quickly becoming the go-to in compassionate and accurate data collection. It’s already been employed in Texas, Las Vegas, Colorado, and New York. In fact, Ford believed in STOLO so much that she pulled more than $40,000 from her own retirement to start the work in 2016 with her colleague Tiffany Nelson.
“STOLO asks you to radically rethink what you want and what you need to be your best,” explained Ford. She added that the system itself prioritizes all voices. When coupled with diverse messaging, tone and ways to collect and confirm data, people of all backgrounds are more likely to feel included, heard, and, as a result, share their input.
FordMomentum! — A Black-owned data firm
Now, neighborhoods and organizations around the nation where STOLO has been utilized are finally seeing better representation, more assets and better infrastructure.
In Texas’ Harris County, STOLO was the backbone of the My Home is Here research with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. This research will result in more than a billion dollars in key infrastructure upgrades, including new bike paths that connect historically-ignored communities, and housing safer from climate change.
“[For MyHomeIsHere], we actually created a game so people could have fun while sharing their ideas for what they want to see in their neighborhoods,” Ford explained.
Adding that residents are often busy with work, family and other needs, she felt it was the firm’s responsibility to capture their interest and responses for an accurate result.
“The traditional way would be to use surveys without offering something in return, but that doesn’t yield responses. Reciprocity in communications is vital to our communities. We knew ultimately that we were building trust. Putting more effort into our outreach communicated how much we valued their responses.”
Ensuring equity through Black-owned data collection
FM! also used bright, colorful and diverse graphic designs, consistent communication and prioritized hiring local residents.
When the data was collected, the team held regular listening sessions to ensure their findings were accurate and reflective of the community’s needs. While it may seem like a lot more work than traditional data collection, Ford says this is just STOLO in action; anything else is subpar.
“Through this engagement, we listened to more than 17,000 residents throughout the process and integrated their lived experiences in the analyses that followed. This also allowed us to foster community relationships, ensuring that we continue to listen to the needs and desires of our people in the months and years to come. The joint My Home is Here project serves as a vehicle for Harris County to establish a proactive approach in determining housing outcomes rather than reacting to them,” said Dr. Adrienne Holloway, Executive Director Harris County Community Services Department.
Ford says she wasn’t surprised by the results – it’s just more proof of what she already knows: STOLO works.
“Our work isn’t just ‘data and numbers.’ It’s about equity and creating new systems that actually work for us,” said Ford. “We never know what’s ‘right’ until we get in there and we ask, and then we confirm our research as well. We aren’t the expert; the people are. ”
People are more than just data points
That’s why FM! approached My Home is Here, and every project the team works on, with a focus on ensuring people are truly heard.
“People have been treated as just data points for centuries. When we don’t see people’s humanity, we’ll do anything to them in the name of science or data,” said Nelson.
”So much of what we’ve learned about the human body and the very ways we’ve structured our society is based on faulty or ill-gotten data. We only just learned that Johnson & Johnson funded research that led to Black inmates being exposed to asbestos.”
“Yet, we can’t begin to solve what we cannot articulate accurately,” said Ford.
“Our approach in communications begins with confirmation of what people want. We’ve found this to be a difficult thing for many people to be able to clearly express for a number of reasons; including fear, cultural norms, and sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. But STOLO is where we start and it gets us all on the same page to articulate and do this work together.”
As My Home is Here moves into its next phase, Ford has turned her sights to new projects in Las Vegas, Boulder, Colorado & Lagos, Nigeria, proving that STOLO isn’t just a way to collect data, it’s a procedure and methodology to make real, lasting change across the world. And the Black-owned data firm has no plans to stop.
Learn more about FM!, STOLO and how to use this revolutionary data-collection tool in your neighborhood, organization or company at thefordmomentum.com.