Tribal Nations Research Group

Report date
August 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

One of our greatest aspects that was instrumental in our work was the communication and collaboration created between the Tribal Nations Research Group (TNRG) and the citizens of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (TMBCI) Tribe, Tribal Government and organizations/agencies within the county and at the state, regional and national level. The tribal council has and is extremely supportive of Tribal Nations Research Group’s efforts in becoming the data center of the TMBCI tribe. Other tribal entities, such as Tribal Health, Tribal Diabetes, Turtle Mountain Schools, etc., have also been supportive in our effort and have given TNRG their data willingly. We have made concerted efforts in reaching out to partners within the county, and have forged new partnerships at the state, regional and federal levels. Most recently we partnered with the state Vital Records department on a Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitory Study, and with Quality Education for Minorities on a National Study involving Tribal Colleges, Historically Black Colleges, and Hispanic Serving Institutions. TNRG has been very transparent in our effort to explain the importance of having a centralized data center.
One of the largest contributions to our community is creating and developing various community needs assessment surveys for TMBCI. Our first survey was used to determine the needs and services need for our community centers which are located in local housing communities. The residents of these communities are often the most impoverished members of our community.TNRG was partnered in this project to assess what services would be preferred and the reasoning behind wanting these services at these sites. A second assessment was launched in December of 2015, this was a community health assessment. This assessment required a survey, focus groups, and key informant interviews to assess the overall health and public health needs of the TMBCI community. The last survey that is currently being developed is a general needs survey; this survey assesses the general needs and living conditions of the TMBCI community. This survey is in its final stages and is expected to be launched this fall. These assessments have been instrumental in the development of the data center, the results will provide a set of baseline data that will help our leaders and community members move forward strategically.
Another great contribution to our community is the ability to provide guidance on data needs and uses. We are actually training people how to use data to make improvements, and show progress in their programs. We are official changing the way decision makers are making decisions. We have educated our community on the data needs and how we can move forward as a community in getting data.

Key lessons learned

A key lessons learned is the need for transparency. Many times tribal leadership is left out of the equation and issues about the operation and the purpose are brought into question. Engaging in open conversations with the tribal leadership is one of the most important aspects in operating an organization such as TNRG. By being transparent, the tribal leadership ensues trust into our purpose and organization and endorses into our mission of becoming the centralized data center. Along with building trust with the tribal leadership, we also must build trust within our community. We have provided open houses, we held a data conference, we have a quarterly newsletter, we update our social media regularly, we have an active website, and TNRG makes every effort to be a part of other tribal ventures such as open houses, workshops, fairs, etc. We found that the more open our doors are to the community, the more they appreciate and trust what we do as an organization. Everywhere TNRG goes, our story follows, and more interest in our organization is gained, which makes us a trusted and reliable organization. This is not considered a failure by far, but we learned from our experience.
The only failure that could be noted is the notion that all organizations would willingly participate in providing data to TNRG data center. On rare occasion some tribal programs were hesitant or refused to provide data to the center. But, once we talked to the members of the organization then would then be willing to contribute. We did have to once or twice execute our authority through showing the tribal resolution which showed our support from the tribal government and stated that it is by tribal resolution that all tribal organizations provide their data to the data center. There have only been minimal instances that this occurred and upon showing the tribal resolution, the organizations were more than willing to contribute. We used the tribal resolution only after numerous attempts to collaborate were made, although it caused some issues, the organizations eventually were willing to contribute and collaborate moving forward.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

It is difficult to choose just one of the elements that have been important in the innovation process; all three rely on each other. By being inclusive in our efforts we were able to make and grow partnerships with tribal, state, and federal organizations. This is extremely important because these organizations feed into our data center. Not only are they providing data, but they are willing to rely on TNRG for assistance in making their efforts stronger. For outside organizations this makes their initiative more effective and efficient, and for TMBCI, their efforts will provide benefit for the tribal citizens. By making the project inclusive the collaboration between these entities is strong and beneficial to the TMBCI community. TNRG advises the entities on how to properly communicate with their partners so that they can become effective in their efforts. With the inclusiveness and collaboration efforts of TMBCI and TNRG, the data center thus becomes more resourceful for all entities to be able to thrive and provide more opportunities for the TMBCI population. We cannot say one is more important than the other, they are equally important to the success of TNRG.

Other key elements of Community Innovation

One key element that helped us progress toward innovation, other than the three provided, is the support we have received from the stakeholders that we have worked with. TMBCI Tribal Council have been vital in the successful operation of the data center. They have found that the service that TNRG provides is important to the efficient and effective services that they intend to provide through tribal organizations. Without full buy-in from the tribal government, other organizations would not be so willing to trust us to what we say we can do. Although we have great support from our Tribal Government, we make it clear to our tribal partners that our data collection and analysis efforts are free of political involvement and bias. What you see is what you get, the data will show what areas are high needs, and should be focused upon.

Understanding the problem

With TNRG being one of its kind and the data center being new for the TM community. We defined the need as there being little or no "status quo" approach to resolving data issues in tribal communities. We have found that this is true, and that the need is even greater than what we initially thought. Building this process has provided us with even more clarity on the need for good quality tribally driven data throughout American Indian communities across the country we also discovered that this process needs to be free of political involvement, and that we have to be trusted by those we serve. This has been somewhat needs to be free of political involvement, and that we have to be trusted by those we serve. This has been somewhat of a challenge as we are limited n staff and resources to serve everyone who has contacted us for assistance or guidance in developing their own data models. In addition, we found that we need professional development in data center operations. The need to see how to operate a data center or what best practices should would have helped in the efficiency of building the data center.

If you could do it all over again...

Going back to the beginning of the grant period, the advice that TNRG could give is to be patient. TNRG is very excited to see the end results of the hard work on this project, but we are still in the development stages and a lot more work needs to be done. Although we are seeing some fruits of labor, the end result is still being developed. But, after the past year, ideas are starting to be made from data collected, the partnerships that have been created are more valuable than expected, and the work that has been done is starting to place TNRG on the map of greatness. Also, American Indian people always try to do so much with very little resources, which sometimes leads to goals and objective not being met, or the objectives are met to the minimal standards. If I could go back, I would focus more and not be so broad in our objectives. Although TNRG will succeed and prove that the foundations investment in our work was well worth it, our overzealous nature placed a lot of pressure on the organization to succeed and the results may not be as expected.

One last thought

To have the opportunity to explore and expand our work has been awesome. As a community we have learned so much about data, the need for data, and the usefulness of data. How decision making can be strengthened and how we can understand what is happening in our community. We look forward to another amazing year continuing our community outreach, education, and building the hype about data use and integrity.