Despite critics, Community Scorecard project hopes to identify major trends

Despite critics, Community Scorecard project hopes to identify major trends

The results are in, and according to the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Scorecard project, slightly more than half of Jewish Pittsburghers are neither natives nor were raised here, but they’ve been here long enough — more than 10 years — to effectively call themselves locals.

Taken as a whole, the survey of more than 2,000 responses paints a picture of a highly philanthropic community that sends its kids to Jewish day schools and public schools with roughly equal frequency but attends synagogue and other Jewish programs at a greater frequency than the general American Jewish population. Most happen to be readers of The Chronicle.

But in relying on self-selected responses to an online portal, the survey is not only quintessentially different from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s 2002 Jewish Community Study, says Carnegie Mellon University professor Stephen Fienberg, its usefulness is severely limited.

“It was done is such a wacky way it would be impossible to draw any inferences from what they draw up,” explained Fienberg, a Harvard-trained statistician. “What if somebody filled it out 20 times? You have no sense who actually filled it out. In a real survey you get to fill it out once or complete it once, but here there’s no control for anything.”

To the officials who spearheaded the Scorecard, the value of the project lies not so much in the data generated, but in its ability to, in the words of consultant Jack Ukeles, “stimulate conversation about important issues regarding the community.”

Ukeles and others involved stressed the Scorecard’s infancy and were quick to point out that the project is not meant to generate statistically relevant data like the 2002 survey.

“We’re just beginning to delve into it,” said Ukeles.

Meryl Ainsman, executive director at the Philip Chosky Charitable and Educational Foundation and manager at Ainsman, Levine and Drexler, chaired the Scorecard project. Like Ukeles, she stated, “We’re still in the process of parsing the data.”

Ainsman explained that the Scorecard originated roughly three years ago after various beneficiary agencies desired additional communal information. A large-scale communal study had been completed nine years before that, and agencies saw that data as old. The Scorecard was conceived as a low-cost means of gaining information.

“When we realized that Pittsburgh was not prepared to do a new study, we thought that this Internet survey was just one way to get some attitudinal information, and [we] recognized that it was only going to be sample because of the way that it was distributed,” said Ainzman.

Invitations to participate in the survey circulated via email to local synagogues and agencies, who then passed it on to their mailing lists. They were also forwarded throughout the community by individuals.

According to Ainsman, the intent was to circulate the survey broadly in hopes of reaching unaffiliated portions; however, the results belied the intent.

“As the results came in, it became somewhat clear that we reached some of the unaffiliated but mostly the affiliated members of the community,” she said.

While the results are now available at, Ainsman considerd them “a sampling” and not to be interpreted as absolute.

Such an approach troubles Fienberg.

“They keep mouthing the mantra that it wasn’t scientific,” he said, “but every effort was made to make it look scientific.”

Marc Brown, principal at ABR Consulting, chaired the subcommittee that focused on the Scorecard’s data. His background in analytics led to his involvement with the project two-and-a-half years ago.

It “gives some interesting insights into how we might want to go forward in collecting additional data,” he said. It is “important to inform people where the data came from. [We] don’t want people to take it too far, but people can use it however they want. We want people to know that it’s open data, where it’s from and what’s it’s about; there’s a lot more we can do, and this is the first step.”

With the Scorecard’s results in hand, Ainsman stated that the next step will be creating a leadership group.

“The next step is to create a leadership council, [a] group of community leaders who will get together and pre-identify major trends or issues that have come out of this,” she said.

That group is expected to convene within the next several months.

For Ainsman, even after the leadership group meets, the Scorecard process is not complete, as she hopes that data collection continues for years to come.

“It’s not a study that gets put on a shelf,” she said. “It’s an ongoing living, breathing, process.”

(Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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