Neighborhood Data for Social Change platform exposes challenges in Los Angeles County


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Whether rolling in the high-life of Beverly Hills or slumming it in the downtown’s skid row, Los Angeles County residents now have a neighborhood dashboard to track the issues the mean the most to them. 

The University of Southern California’s Price Center for Social Innovation launched the new online tool last week, calling it the “Neighborhood Data for Social Change Platform.” Built using open data tools from Socrata, its purpose is to be a free resource to monitor challenges like air pollution, food insecurity and even heart disease across the county. USC’s intent is to equip residents with data analytics when researching policy issues and lobbying representatives.

USC Spokesperson Megan Goulding said the platform came at the end of a multi-year collaboration between the university, the city and its residents. The maps, graphs and charts contained in the tool focus on 10 policy areas with new datasets added to the platform weekly.  

“Users can use the platform to identify general neighborhood trends, as well as track data around specific policies and programs within their community, bringing data and evidence into the civic dialogue within their community,” Goulding said. “The data we curated was chosen to help inform the most pressing policy issues of our day, which range from rent burdened communities in LA to the ways in which open space interacts with health.”

There also plans to contribute an ongoing series of “data stories” that offer unique perspectives while providing residents examples of the platform’s potential for data journalism. 

At launch, a couple of the data stories featured in the tool chronicle the rising rent crisis in LA and the environment and health issues for the city of Irwindale. A 2017 study by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment reports that Irwindale stood in the top 99.9 percent of all California cities for “pollution burden.” The data story points to root causes like old mining facilities and factories.

KCETLink, the platform’s media partner, has committed to publishing additional data stories under City Rising, a TV program analyzing the reasons behind societal problems. 

Much of the data included in the tool comes from the U.S. Census, but city, state and federal agencies also provide a good share of the content. Goulding said USC gathered a steering committee of about 20 representatives from nonprofits, public agencies and private businesses to guide the data selection process.

“This group is instrumental in shaping the ongoing vision and design of the Neighborhood Data for Social Change platform,” Goulding said. “Data were selected in collaboration with our steering committee and a larger group of stakeholders within Los Angeles County.”

Goulding said that the steering committee is continuing to select high value datasets, and is now planning a second major upgrade to the platform that will boast more data and tools.
Gary Painter, director of the USC Price Center, said in a release accompanying the launch that the platform is unique in its capacity to deliver highly targeted intelligence, a feature that could give many residents a stronger voice in their communities. 

“This platform is a new tool for supporting neighborhood-level change in Los Angeles,” Painter said. “Residents will be able to better understand timely issues, trends and challenges in their communities and advocate for policies and programs to affect change.” 

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