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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

New Health Equity Tools Can Aid Public Sector Decision Makers

October 23rd, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Ángel Ross, Research Associate at PolicyLink

The following article article is excerpted from Powering Health Equity Action with Online Data Tools: 10 Design Principles. This report was produced by Ecotrust and PolicyLink. It aims to strengthen community-driven efforts to achieve health equity by improving the online data tools that make health equity data readily available to them. ▪Ecotrust is powered by the vision of a world where people and nature thrive together.▪PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works®. PolicyLink runs the Center or Infrastructure Equity which advocates for fair and inclusive policies and provides advocates, public officials, and other stakeholders with the tools, training, and consultation needed to ensure that public investments in infrastructure create economic opportunity and health in all communities.

Achieving health equity—when everyone has a just and fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible regardless of race, income, or other socially defined characteristics—is essential to building resilient communities, a prosperous economy, and a just society. Without optimal health, it is impossible for people to reach their full potential. Yet today in the United States, health disparities are persistent and growing. These inequities are not natural or inevitable, but stem from structural racism and discrimination, as well as the inequitable policies, practices, and resource allocations that create the vastly unequal conditions in which people live.

Community-based organizations play a crucial role in advancing health equity. These institutions help put in place new policies, plans, and programs that improve neighborhood environments and opportunities for low-income communities, communities of color, and others unjustly and unfairly burdened by poor health. And community-level data that is disaggregated by race, income, neighborhood, and other demographics is an essential tool to increase the effectiveness and impact of these organizations.

This report (pdf) aims to strengthen community-driven efforts to achieve health equity by improving the online data tools that make health equity data readily available to them.

Robust local data can help community groups at every stage of the policy process, from understanding local conditions and inequities, to framing and building support for issues and policy solutions, to monitoring progress toward equity results. Neighborhood-level data that can be mapped and layered is also valuable for revealing the relationships between different issues such as fnancial security and displacement, community assets and potential development and market opportunities, as well as the cumulative effects of varied risks, harms, or barriers. Disaggregated data and community mapping can also illuminate the experiences of marginalized people and communities to decision makers, and shed light on issues made purposefully invisible.

But while we live in the age of data, the right data and the tools for analyzing, displaying, and sharing it are often elusive for under resourced community groups.

Over the past decade, community leaders and a growing array of institutions have begun building new data tools with the explicit purpose of addressing this mismatch and advancing equity. In 2007, Portland, Oregon’s Coalition for a Livable Future launched the nation’s frst “regional equity atlas,” a printed volume of maps documenting the vast disparities in access to resources and opportunities across the region and supporting successful advocacy to target investments to communities of color and low-income communities. Other communities—Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles—followed suit and created their own atlases, mapping a multitude of indicators across the various domains that influence health, from employment to transportation to housing to community safety and more.

At the national level, more data tools for equity have emerged. Some comprehensively depict equity conditions for multiple communities, such as the National Equity Atlas and diversitydatakids.org. Others provide disaggregated community data for specific issues and policy areas, such as Mapping Police Violence (community safety and justice) or Clocking-In (wages and workers’ rights).

These equity data tools are supporting policy development, organizing, and investment for heath equity in myriad ways:

  • Housing advocates used the Portland Regional Equity Atlas maps to successfully advocate for a 30 percent funding setaside for the development and preservation of affordable housing in disinvested areas. During the fve years that followed, this policy raised about $125 million for affordable housing.
  • Mapping Police Violence estimates that 90,000 users have contacted their local, state, or federal elected officials about their positions on police reform through a widget on the website titled “Demand Action from Your Representatives.”
  • The Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago recently incorporated diversitydatakids.org’s Child Opportunity Index, a measure of relative opportunity across a metropolitan area calculated based on 19 indicators of educational, health, environmental, social, and economic opportunity, into its criteria for allocating $875,000 in Healthy Chicago 2.0 Seed Grants devoted to promoting health equity.

We believe that the equity data field is on the verge of rapid growth and, with it, the vast potential to strengthen community-driven advocacy and organizing—if these tools are designed with equity in mind.

In the spirit of nurturing this nascent field and contributing to its evolution, this report offers up a set of 10 design principles for online data tools intended to advance health equity. It was developed for researchers, advocates, community members, planners, funders, and others interested in building, improving, or investing in such data tools. The principles were developed by PolicyLink and Ecotrust and vetted with community advocates and practitioners, equity data tool creators, and funders at a convening held in Portland, Oregon, in July 2017. The principles draw upon our knowledge and experience as equity data tool creators, eager observers, and scholars of the data democratization and community indicators movement over the past two decades.

We are hopeful that the democratization of data and technology leads to new opportunities and examples of community-driven and community-owned tools. We are excited about the potential of emerging and existing data tools and hope others will join us in building upon these principles and examples in service of health equity.

Follow this link to continue and read the full report!

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