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The importance of building trust through civic voice and data
September 28, 2020
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We welcome Edgar Vazquez, Civic Voice Intern, to the Open Environmental Data Project team! Below is an introduction to his goals, interest and work.

I’ve spent the majority of my life in Houston, Texas. When it came time to make the decision of where I would pursue my bachelor’s degree, I felt Houston needed to continue being my home. Choosing to remain in my home city allowed me to immerse myself culturally but also gain geographic context for my career in public service.

At 18, I started engaging in local politics and gained insight into how elected officials champion movements by forming coalitions. They do so by working with the community to promote policy which improves the lives of not only one individual, but the community as a whole. Policy is as much a tool for a public official, as it is a tool for change and improvement. Ultimately, if utilized correctly, one can fundamentally aid a large group of people with differing interests.

The university atmosphere is conducive to nurturing career aspirations and I used my non-traditional journey to explore my personal motivations and goals. Overcoming adversities throughout my undergraduate experience granted me the opportunity to discover my why factor. I believe that the reason why we pursue something is as important as what we pursue.

I decided to focus on opportunities that allow me to uplift my community and take on a role of public servant. I wanted to explore the lens of advocacy to fundamentally address the complex intertwined policy issues of my community. My journey towards engagement with the the city of Houston, started with a process: identifying the issue, researching, strategizing and planning execution. Through this process I have been able to assess a range of community issues including gentrification, lack of economic opportunity, and increased amounts of unauthorized air pollution.

In my experience, the first step towards improvement and change as a whole, is to form a coalition. Coalition-building is an art. It requires individuals and groups to be willing to rise above their divisions and actively collaborate to produce comprehensive change.

Having interned at a political action committee and a political consulting firm, I have obtained first-hand experience into the strategic outreach that is required to engage with communities. Sharpening my skills, I found myself engulfed, not only in the art, but also the science of coalition building-- the components that center around the application of data. Data is integral to understanding community concerns, but I often see that there is no room for data in community discourse, and this is due to the lack of human-centered partnerships.

To enact policy there needs to be both data and trust; a trust that consists of a collective concern that goes beyond political ideology. Without fostering trust-based engagement models, the journey towards comprehensive change stumbles. As the Civic Voice Intern at the Open Environmental Data Project, I have the unique opportunity to collectively work towards establishing a true inclusive structure for community-based input.

I am ecstatic to observe the intersection of data and people, and think about how community-based participation through SIDE (Stakeholder, Individual, Data, Evidence) events and a Civic Voice Archive, can propel us towards the establishment of trust itself. There are few moments in one’s career where we find ourselves at the cusp of true comprehensive change, and this work has the potential to fundamentally improve the way constituents engage with their communities at a legislative level. To be completely honest, I still have not finished learning everything that comes with successfully building a coalition, but that’s okay, because I don’t think I ever will.