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Powering Health Equity Action with Online Data Tools: 10 Design Principles

Posted: October 09, 2017

PolicyLink and EcoTrust recently released a report that 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.

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.

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 financial 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 underresourced 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 first “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 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).

See the full report from PolicyLink and Ecotrust.

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