Empowering Communities in L.A. County with Data

April 15, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

Empowering Communities in L.A. County with Data

Photo source: Digitonin/Flickr

Knowing where to find detailed data on a given neighborhood, such as the number of vacant properties or the average life expectancy for residents, isn’t always clear-cut.

If you live in L.A. County, the path to this information is clear. You use the Neighborhood Data for Social Change.

The site has no shortage of aggregated data — it’s home to 46 datasets, on topics including health, public safety, transportation, and more. Angelenos can use a map interface to inspect data for a particular neighborhood. Zoom in, for instance, and you can take a look at the air quality in East Los Angeles (or any other county neighborhood you select).

The University of Southern California’s Price Center for Social Innovation launched the Neighborhood Data for Social Change (NDSC) in 2017. The online, Socrata-powered platform aggregates neighborhood-level data online across 10 policy areas for L.A. County residents and other interested parties.

But what the NDSC’s site does most powerfully is use all this information to share data-driven stories. Featured on the site are pages on stories about the rising rent, the wages and cost of living for L.A. workers, access to public transportation, and more.

“The platform helps community stakeholders track measurable change, improve local policies and programs, and ultimately advocate for a better quality of life within their communities,” says Elly Schoen, Data & Project Manager, USC Price Center for Social Innovation.

Powering L.A. County’s Civic Actors

The website is a resource for analysts and policy wonks, as well as residents, nonprofits, and other community groups. It allows anyone to dig into the data, engage with the community, secure grant funding, assess policy, scope out the benefits to new programs, and more.

“We work year-round to add new data to the site,” says Schoen.

And, an important component of NDSC’s work is around community involvement — the Price Center has trained more than 350 Angelenos through on-site visits and monthly training sessions. At these sessions, attendees learn the basics of data (why it’s important, how to use it) as well as the power of telling a data-backed story to advocate for community needs or illuminate concerns.

“We partnered with the neighborhood council bodies we have in LA,” Schoen says. “At those trainings, we worked with concerned citizens and advocacy organizations who were coming to learn how to understand what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

Since launch, 17 data stories have been written in partnership with community organizations. That’s not the only use for the data. In one instance, one of the data stories was included in a successful grant application for a local transportation plan.

“We’re trying to also engage the student body around it here at USC,” says Schoen.

Tons of Data—And More Requested

The platform has received over 150,000 pageviews since its launch.

Schoen says it’s gratifying to see people interacting with the portal, and engaging with NDSC’s data.

The most popular datasets stretch across policy areas, touching on rent rates, race and ethnicity, jobs and industry, and educational attainment.

“All of the 10 data policy areas, they’re all important to different users,” says Schoen.

And NDSC is eager to add even more.

“We have a running list of datasets we’re trying to source,” says Schoen. “At every community training event, NDSC always requests that people share which datasets they’re like to see on the platform.”

A Well-Received Vehicle for Social Change

NDSC isn’t intended for use solely — or even primarily — by wonks and data analysis pros.

“One of the most important things when we were developing this is to make it as user-friendly as possible so you don’t have to have a degree to understand what’s going on with this data,” says Schoen.

And the work has paid off, with an enthusiastic — and deeply engaged — reception.

“I’ve never been ceased to be amazed about how excited people are to learn about data and learn how to use this [platform],” says Schoen. “People leave feedback all the time expressing how excited they are to have this tool. It’s been a huge success and we’re really looking forward to continuing to grow.”

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