U.S. Data Sources

This regularly updated catalog is compiled from a survey sent to roughly 100 individuals, asking them what data resources they turn to when they need publicly available data for local community work.  

The listing originally was created for communities participating in the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative.

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This survey collects data about health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventative services. The 500 cities project, which is sponsored by the CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides Census tract-level estimates derived from BRFSS for 500 cities, including about 120 cities in California.

Broadband & Health (Connect2Health)
FCC
Search for a county in the U.S. to obtain data on that county’s broadband access rate, along with comparisons to a number of health measures.

CARES Engagement Network
University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems
A mapping platform that offers thousands of data layers, as well as a report builder for those who need to prepare community health needs assessments.

CDC Data
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In addition to the BRFSS data noted above, this data catalog provides access to other publicly available data from the CDC. Among the CDC’s offerings, the CDC Wonder data query tool is one frequently used resource.

Census Bureau (American FactFinder)
US Census Bureau
A compilation of data from a variety of US Census surveys, including the American Community Survey.

If you need information or ideas about how to utilize these data and transform facts drawn from these sites into action, or if you know of additional resources, please reach out.

City Health Dashboard
New York University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Economic, health, and environmental data by city and Census tract are available for the 500 largest cities in the country, including roughly 120 cities in California.

Community Commons
Institute for People, Place, and Possibility
Access to wide-ranging, community-level data and mapping tools for locations across the U.S.

County Health Rankings and Road Maps
University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Data and rankings for all counties in the US on health-specific measures, as well as on indicators that influence health.

Data.gov
U.S. Government
The open data portal for the U.S. government, linking to datasets across federal agencies.

Data USA
Deloitte, Datawheel
Demographic, health, housing, and other data are available for locations — including counties and cities — across the US. Users also can compare two locations across multiple measures.

DiversityDataKids
Brandeis University
Hundreds of measures of child well being, broken down by county and metropolitan area. Data also are available for roughly a dozen large cities and school districts in California.

Food Insecurity
Feeding America
County-level data about food insecurity rates, meal costs, and nutrition program eligibility.

IHME (Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington)
IHME
PDF data reports are available for counties across the country, and include data on life expectancy, mortality rates (by condition), and disease prevalence.

Kids Count
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
This national resource offers child-related data for California’s largest cities.

Life Expectancy Data (USALEEP)
National Center for Health Statistics, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems
Newly released Census tract-level life expectancy data.

Livability Index
AARP
An index that scores neighborhoods and communities for services and amenities that impact individuals’ lives, including housing, transportation, civic engagement, and the environment.

National Equity Atlas
PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity
City and regional data on changing demographics, racial inclusion, and the economic benefits of equity.

Opportunity360 (Measures of Pathways to Local Opportunities)
Enterprise
Type in an address, and get a 20-page Census tract-level report with detailed data on housing stability, education, health and well being, economic security, and mobility/transportation. Data are compared to your local region, the state, and the nation.

PolicyMap
PolicyMap
A mapping tool that provides data on hundreds of measures for locations across the US. Access to some data and website features requires a paid subscription.

Seven Ways We Can Help Local Organizations Transform Data into Impact

I’m in awe of the dedicated individuals working locally to advance social issues by harnessing data. After all, they’re on the front lines of marshaling numbers to push forward their work, and it’s not easy work. They may need data to help inform policy decisions; increase funding for a cause; or perhaps even to try to change a health behavior, such as bolstering physical activity in a community.

The question that fascinates me, however, is whether these folks in the trenches using data for decision-making have the tools they need to take on this important work. Increasingly, I realize that we collectively offer folks doing local work what we assume they need with data, not what they actually could benefit from. Based on the work that I’ve been doing to help local organizations communicate with data, I put together this compilation of ideas on how we can build up the capacity of those doing community-level work to transform numbers into impact.

Individuals Working Locally Desire Tools that Address the Need for Face-to-Face Communication, not Digital Dissemination

There’s a digital arms race these days, with major media outlets churning out data visualizations that are beautiful and highly interactive. These visualizations make your jaw drop and your head spin, but will these gorgeous displays of data be useful to achieve change at a local level? I haven’t seen evidence of that type of use — and there’s a good reason for that. If you’re disseminating data nationally and, like most media outlets, your goal is to raise awareness of and educate people on an issue, you’re likely to choose a highly viral presentation format, one that’s geared for digital dissemination.

But in the conversations that I have every week with people on the front lines, they need tools for face-to-face, not digital, communication. They may have an in-person meeting with a local business leader, so a one-page fact sheet is far better at generating conversation (and less awkward to use) than something meant for display on the computer. Likewise, these same individuals may speak to the county board of supervisors or to a community organization, so they may want to use a presentation or a slideshow. I’m finding that these face-to-face tools, plus a sprinkling of social media for some organizations, is the bread and butter of local data dissemination.

Example: One health department with which I work created data posters; think of them as dashboards with graphs and maps that they enlarge for group display. They’ll bring these data posters to community convenings, and ask attendees to jot down questions and ideas on sticky notes that they place on the posters. In the process, this health department took a format (the dashboard) geared toward one-way communication and turned it into a discussion tool.

The Steady Drumbeat of Outreach Needed for Effective Communication Isn’t Easy to Accomplish

I’m sure a lot of us can identify with the feeling of relief you have when you finish a data project. It likely took forever to find and analyze the data, and you then poured tons of energy into releasing the results. You probably have a report; maybe some kind of supporting charts and graphs; and perhaps a press release and media strategy to highlight key findings. All that’s great, and, yes, you should feel relieved, but a lot of organizations whose data is meant for local consumption lack the bandwidth to go beyond this initial outreach. I’ve found over the years that it takes a repeat dosage of dissemination to get the data to stick. For example, you can tailor your presentation to deliver it to different groups on an ongoing basis, or find news pegs related to your findings, then tweet out your results as news warrants.

Local organizations — for example, a county health department — isn’t really built for such steady, ongoing outreach like this; they understandably must move on to the next obligation by the time they release findings. So it’s incumbent on funders, as well as consultants offering communication support, to help these local organizations communicate in simple, practical ways via ongoing outreach. Foundations, for example, could fund not just the big unveiling but also tactics geared toward repeat dissemination.   

It’s Hard to Be Cogent When Describing Something About Which You’re Passionate

I sympathize with the local epidemiologist who has done amazing and granular analysis of findings. That epidemiologist may understandably assume that others locally will be as interested in the findings as he/she is. So the epidemiologist creates a 40-page data report with roughly 20-30 charts and maps as supporting evidence. I’m sure you’ve all come across a data report like that.

The trouble is that those of us on the receiving end of that impressive report are likely overwhelmed, not enthusiastic. We often just skim through that report quickly, ignoring the supporting narrative as we look for an engaging chart or two that can capture key concepts. Sometimes, we’re so overwhelmed, in fact, that we may just simply turn the other way, closing the browser window or deleting the e-mail announcement, as we move on to the next thing that crosses our computer screen.

I don’t expect the data analyst on their own to know how to avoid this data dump and to think about communication practices, such as targeting specific audiences with tailored messaging. That’s not their job, so it’s probably ineffective to put the tools of communication solely in the hands of the data analyst. Instead, there needs to be a collaboration when it comes to summarizing findings, and in particular, the data analyst needs assistance from individuals who can help them boil down findings to a few key points and add depth incrementally, from an attention-grabbing graph that leads to a one-page summary and, finally, to the full report.

Example: A few years ago, I was tasked with creating report cards to be used by opioid coalitions working locally to combat this growing epidemic. The report cards contained roughly a dozen maps and graphs on opioid prescriptions, emergency department visits, and deaths, and all of the data compared a local county to the state average.  In other words, our reports cards were brimming with useful information.

The problem we faced, however, is that the report, while comprehensive, wasn’t really a good introduction into the topic. If you clicked on the report, you might feel like you were joining a conversation midstream. So we built a landing page that could serve as a teaser to grab people’s attention and to prime them for the larger report. On that landing page, we noted how significant an issue opioid misuse has become, with death rates that are higher than deaths from guns. We then asked the reader at the bottom of this brief teaser how many people in their community they think died from opioid misuse, a question that we answered when they clicked into the report card.

Those Working Locally Need Help Developing an Emotional Story that Can Color the Seeming Dullness of Data Findings

In local settings, we tend to paint by numbers only, forgetting that our brains are collectively wired for stories. Or we’ll resort only to the story, and not seek out related data findings. When you’re working at a community level, I’ve found that there’s a deep well of poignant, relatable stories from which you can draw. And, of course, there’s likely to be some facts you can stitch into this narrative to help you make an even more compelling case. Data storytelling means that you don’t need to choose between reaching the heart or the head, the intellectual side or the emotional side of your audience. However, bridging the two doesn’t come naturally to folks working locally, who may have strengths with data or stories, but typically not both. Fortunately, there are some simple tactics and approaches to help these individuals create evocative, persuasive data stories that can yield the change they seek, and communication experts typically have the knowledge to draw on these approaches and help local communities find their story among the mass of numbers.

Example: I recently traveled to California’s Central Valley with a colleague who runs a communication firm. We were supporting an initiative to help individual communities across California make headway on a particular topic — in this case, heart disease and diabetes — by implementing sustainable, community-wide tactics that addressed root causes, not just clinical factors.

One person in the room, a community organizer in a rural, poverty-stricken and crime-stricken area, talked so passionately about the local park that was in desperate need of rehabilitation. She noted how valuable that park could be to the community, including by encouraging exercise, if the county invested a relatively small amount of funds to renovate the park. We were able to turn a story she told about one grandmother, who cares for her three grandkids, into a persuasive narrative that encapsulates the problem; provides an idealized solution; and integrates data that expresses the situation, all in a two-page fact sheet. It was the story that this community organizer told that made the issue so compelling — far better than data alone could do.

Big Numbers Don’t Guarantee Big Results

The bigger the number, you may assume, the more impact it will have. For example, if there are tens of thousands individuals suffering locally from poverty, not hundreds, you may think you have a stronger argument. Yes, that’s true, you have a strong case to make from an intellectual point of view. But from a practical, more visceral standpoint, large numbers tend to be an abstraction and something we have a hard time conceptualizing. Keep in mind, too, that, seemingly large percentages (e.g. 25% who lack a high school education) or, even worse, rates (e.g. a rate of 20 per 1,000 who have asthma) also are hard for a reader to make concrete.

Local communities — many of which are metropolitan areas the size of small states — regularly resort to spouting off large numbers, but they understandably don’t realize that people may need help unpacking what that number looks like. There are ways — with both words and visuals — that we can demonstrate to our audiences how big these numbers are. For example, we can create visualizations that show numbers as a series of dots to show how big a number that is, or we can use social math (e.g. that’s enough people to sell out the local arena three nights in a row). Here again, though, those of us on the outside, rather than the data analyst, may be better at finding these opportunities where we can unpack the meaning of a large number.

By the way, the opposite also true: Some rural communities face a small-number issue — for example, a relatively small number of deaths (3 or 4 a year) from a major problem like opioid misuse. Here, too, there are strategies to employ to help people understand the significance of these numbers.

Example: I recently was handed a study for one community with which I’m working. It was an excellent, well thought through analysis of cost savings if this particular county could reduce hospitalizations from a particular disease over a multi-year period. They factored in cost savings from avoided hospitalizations and from worker productivity (given that addressing this health issue mean less absences from work). The savings were impressive: more than $100 million in all. But that number is hard to grasp, particularly given their goal of using this cost savings as a way to encourage local employers, who understandably don’t have a good grasp of public budgets, to join their initiative. What does $100 million really look like? Fortunately, there are tactics we will employ to make that number more meaningful to reach this audience.

Finding Data Is Still a Challenge

You might understandably think that the open data movement, whereby governments and others are publishing their data in more accessible formats, has made it easier for folks locally to find the data they need. But open data portals are best at distributing data. The tools to help people initially find the data are somewhat rudimentary on open data portals. This means that people in local communities — most of whom don’t “own” the data they need —  don’t know where to begin their data search. If they want data on school fitness results, do they go to the local school district? The state department of education? The state or the county’s public health department? A federal agency? There are not road maps that point where to go, so organizations end up spending unnecessary time searching for the data they need.

But what if instead there were data navigators — for example staff in state government who could point people in the right direction? Someone who could answer queries like the one above no doubt would make it easier for those working locally to efficiently obtain useful data, allowing them to get on with the work of analysis and communication.

These data navigators, too, would be in a great position to share insights with data publishers (e.g. state agencies) on how else to release data. These data navigators may learn, for example, about the need to provide data at a more granular level — by zip code or Census tract, not by county, for example, or by other valuable breakdowns: gender, race/ethnicity, income, age, etc.

Local Communities Don’t Have Ways to Break Down Big Concepts like Equity or the Social Determinants of Health

If you work at a local level, the concepts of equity and social determinants of health are bound to come up. Yet these terms are just thrown around, as if we all know what they mean. Equity refers to inequality, or those on the fringes that are in most need of assistance, yet many audiences you want to reach may understandably think equity refers to home ownership. And the social determinants of health? That describes the concept that upstream, “root” factors, such as education, poverty or where we work, play a role in downstream impacts, like heart disease or stroke. But the words “social determinants…”, let alone the concept, is enough to make someone who’s unfamiliar, perhaps including an elected official, tune out.

Local communities need devices and simple illustrations to help explain these concepts with brevity. We can’t expect them to come up with this language on their own; it’s better if we can all borrow from the same set of explanatory tools, as the upstream-oriented organization, Health Begins, has begun to do with the social determinants and as FrameWorks Institute also has done.

Example: I’m working with one local community that recognized this challenge of unpacking impressive-sounding terms. Although their work is focused on cardiovascular disease, they need to address the complicated interrelationships that exist when addressing cardiovascular disease, including explaining the root causes of heart disease and the layered levels of inequality. They observed to me that, although they need a tool for face-to-face communication, like a slideshow, the linear nature of a presentation where you go from one slide to the next would not do the complexity of this topic justice. So we’re thinking instead about other ways to present this information and data that can better express this concept of interrelationships.

These are just a few observations that come to mind for how we collectively can help those working in the trenches with data better achieve the impact they’re after. I’m eager to hear what others think — both additional ideas for what else is needed and thoughts on how to address some of the challenges noted above. Please add comments below.

Why do I feel like I’m still waiting for data to come to our rescue?

You’ve probably seen the same headlines that I have over the years: The amount of data is growing at a mind-boggling rate. In fact, there’s so much data that we gave this phenomenon a name: “Big Data.”

Yet I keep wondering: Why if there’s so much more data are we not getting significantly better at leveraging numbers to solve pressing social problems?

We now have more granular data about a whole range of health behaviors, for example. In my children’s-related work roughly 15 years ago, we felt fortunate to find data broken down by county, which, for populous counties, is too large a summary score to be useful for decision-making. But now we can act, at least theoretically, with far more precision, given that we have neighborhood-level estimates for a whole host of health measures, including health behaviors and life expectancy.

From my vantage point, however, I see little evidence that use of such local data are yielding momentous results. I don’t mean to suggest that data alone can solve long-standing problems in the social sector, but we certainly live in a world in which we presume more data will come to our rescue. I’m just not sure I’m seeing data coming over the horizon on its white horse, riding to our rescue in the social sector.

Yes, Data Are Now Easier to Find, But..

How could that be, you may wonder? After all, data are so much easier to find now compared to, say, ten years ago with government agencies publishing significantly more data, thanks to the open data movement. And beyond government data, which tend to be a few years old, there are all kinds of new sources with “fresher” data, too — e.g. the numbers we shed from the various sensors that inhabit our lives, including exercise trackers and the data fumes from our cell phone use.

I’m not sure I’m seeing data coming over the horizon on its white horse, riding to our rescue in the social sector.

Now that we have these data, we’re eager to make sense of them, so we put deep faith in the power of analytics to put some order to all of these numbers. We even have a new profession, data scientists, to signify expertise at conducting such analyses. There’s surely no greater marker of the ascendancy of data than elevating it to that level of all-powerful scientists in whom we put so much faith to improve our understanding of the world.

The solution to this problem of failing to transform facts into impact isn’t just more data. We’re buried in data, thanks to the flood of numbers that overwhelm us each day. Nor should the solution be focused solely on developing more powerful tools for conducting analyses. The tools we have now seem strong enough to address pressing social phenomenon.

So how can we solve this problem?

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that data needs to take a pause – in essence, get off its treadmill. Instead we need to focus on the words and messaging that surround the data we’re disseminating and think through, too, how the end-user is digesting the numbers that we often arbitrarily speak nowadays. There’s a way forward here, but that way forward needs more words and stories, less data.

Avoid Dull Facts, FDR Advised

One analogy that comes to mind is iron ore, another primary source material with vast potential. Iron ore, however, isn’t useful until it’s converted into steel. By that same token, data don’t have meaning until translated into information. We often think the conversion stops there, from data to information. But steel rods are not helpful in our lives; that steel needs to be forged into a tool — e.g. a hammer or building materials — that humans can tap. By that same token, information forged from data need to be harnessed, translated into engaging products relevant in our lives in order to achieve results.

Raw data is like iron ore. It needs to be forged into a tool.

Consider the wise counsel of Franklin Roosevelt: Avoid dull facts, he advised his speechwriters during the depression, according to Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book, Leadership in Turbulent Times. Create memorable images, Roosevelt said, and translate every issue into people’s lives. That was nearly 100 years ago, but to this day, we still believe that data can stand on its own two feet.

Let’s try a quick experiment:

Say I were to tell you that in your community 15% of people suffer from asthma, a verifiable fact that others could look up. You might take notice, just maybe. However, a number like 15% can seem like an abstraction.

But let’s say instead I led with a story:

“Everyday when Jenny gets on the bus for school, her mom worries whether she remembered to take her asthma inhaler with her and will react quickly enough to use that inhaler if she gets an attack, which could be deadly. Jenny is like so many others in our community, more than 15% of whom suffer from asthma.”

Chances are that the second, story-based approach will grab your attention, encouraging you to listen more intently, think about solutions, and share this information with others.

Our Brain Are Hard-Wired for Stories

Put simply, our brains are hard-wired for stories. By contrast, this notion of describing ourselves with numbers is a relatively new phenomenon. After all, it’s only in recent human history that we’ve lived in communities populous enough to be measured through statistics. From an evolutionary perspective, we may only have capacity to understand the size of numbers we come across everyday — and those numbers are not in the thousands or millions, the ones that people typically communicate.

So while scientists speak in the language of numbers, the vast majority of the people that we need to reach in the social sector, from elected officials to local business leaders to concerned community members that vote, aren’t as likely to be persuaded by data as stories. I’m not talking here about reaching fellow travelers who are well-versed in a topic. Sure, they understand the data; they’re the choir, which is easy to preach to. But if you want to reach non-experts, data will need to be adorned. Your numbers will need to be woven strategically into a compelling narrative. You need the heart and the head to make a persuasive case, not one or the other.

Beyond messaging, there’s the issue, too, of how to present facts in useful ways. These days, I’m noticing a digital arms race in the data visualization sector, with national news outlets building data tools with increasingly beautiful, art-like displays and impressive ways for readers to interact with findings. That makes sense, given that national news outlets like the New York Times or the Washington Post are in the business of raising broad awareness and educating a national populace.

This New York Times data animation on income mobility got a lot of attention — and for good reason. But when you’re doing the local work to get traction with data, the tools you want to use often are simpler: a compelling story and a cogent, simple visual.

But when you’re in the trenches, doing the local-level cavalry work with data, you’re neither looking for such interactive displays, nor could you realistically have the budget to hire designers and data visualization programmers to build out visualizations that make audiences’ jaws drop.

Seemingly every week I’m talking to people doing this community-level, heavy lifting with data dissemination. When I ask them how they want to display findings to yield results, they talk about face-to-face communication — presentations to the Board of Supervisors or a meeting with a local business leader to whom they want to leave a printed fact sheet. This notion of highly interactive, digital displays doesn’t often come up.

Instead of a highly interactive visualization like the one above, people on the front lines of data dissemination often need tools that support face-to-face communication, such as these PDF fact sheets offered by kidsdata.org.

It won’t be as hard as we might think to shift our focus from finding and analyzing the data to thinking, too, about compelling, story-based messaging and thoughtful displays rooted in real-world use cases. There are approaches we can employ (yes, effective data storytelling can be taught), and lessons from which we can learn to build up our capacity. And, yes, we will need to find ways to address the idealogical and cultural biases which can act as filters in the minds of recipients, increasingly preventing us from reading from a common, data-infused script. Likewise, we need to get better at discussing solutions and impact, not just the social problems that data expose.

I remain confident, however, that a well-told story enriched with verifiable facts will get at least a majority of listeners to pay attention in an objective way. And the first step down this path is simply recognizing that data, on its own, won’t ride to our rescue, even if we have more data and better tools of analysis. Data need people to humanize the numbers and guide fellow humans to results for our communities.

This is just one observer’s opinion. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on whether we’re better than I think we are at leveraging data in the social sector. And if not, what else could help address this problem? Please add a comment below…

Lessons Learned in Communicating with Data

Tips for the Social Sector from Andy Krackov

  1. As one wise data person once told me: “If you can’t be with the data you love, love the data you’re with.” Unfortunately, that dataset you yearn for that has the exact demographic breakdowns you want simply may not exist, even in this age of data, data everywhere. Make do with what’s available, using what you can get as a proxy for what you think you need.

  2. Create data stories, not just data visualizations.While it’s true that a picture (or map or chart) may be worth a thousand words, that picture + words can be worth infinitely more. Find ways to integrate the visualization you’re creating into a larger narrative and broader canvas where you can tell a story to make your point. Your story needn’t be long – the digital equivalent of a one-page brief with a few graphs and a related story with poignant photos, quotes or a video may be all that you need to engage your readers.
    Example: Data Speaks Louder

  3. Appeal to both the heart and the head. It’s natural to assume that presenting data means our arguments should all be logical and fact-based. However, it can be advantageous to appeal to audiences’ emotional side, too. After all, we’re all influenced differently. For some, the logic of data speaks to our head. Others might be persuaded by a story and/or touching photo that targets our heart. And some of us may be persuaded by both. Why should we need to choose? Through data stories, we can appeal to the heart and the head.
    Examples: Sonoma CountyPurpose’s Communication Campaign on Shiftworkers

  4. Enlist writers, designers, and community members to help you tell your story. Another wise data person once observed to me that “the hardest thing for a data person to do is to speak English. The second hardest thing for that data person to do is to write in English.” If you’re a data person who lacks such communication skills, don’t try to harness your inner Hemingway. Your time may be better spent by finding those within your community who possess the capacity to communicate effectively. And it’s just as important to enlist those with lived experiences to tell their story through photos, quotes and other means that can add color to the data.
    Examples: California Health Care Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund

  5. Don’t start with the full story. We often focus on larger data reports. But we live in an age when we’re consuming information on the go, often from our cell phones – e.g. while we wait in line for the bus home from work or make breakfast. In such situations, we can’t expect constituents to digest a long report. It’s much better to lead with a graph on Twitter or something similarly brief to entice someone to read on. That graph can link to a fact sheet with the main points, which, in turn, can link to the full report.

  6. Make large numbers relatable. The cognitive psychologist, Paul Slovic observed that “our cognitive and perceptual systems seem designed to sensitize us to small changes in our environment, possibly at the expense of making us less able to detect and respond to large changes.” He concluded by noting that, “If I look at the mass, I will never act.” His point – that we cognitively don’t have the capacity to digest large numbers – means that we need to be creative in illustrating numbers that may feel like an abstraction to people. 
    Examples: Wall Street JournalReuters
  7. Always talk to your users. Before you build a data story or some other data product, ask your audiences what messages most resonate with them. Find out, too, how you can best package information in ways that will encourage them to engage with your content and activate them to take action. Think through, for example, whether your users will be most likely to read your findings on a computer, a tablet device or a phone. Or, ask if what you want to convey would best be shared through a live data presentation or in some other face-to-face format. 

    Answers to these and other questions that allow you to walk in your users’ shoes will help you understand how best to present and format your data findings – perhaps a slide show or a printable fact sheet may make the most sense. And the best way to get these answers is to go out and meet with your audiences and to learn about their needs – before you build, during the development phase, and after launch (so that you can continually refine).
    Examples: California Health & Human Services Agency,the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health (kidsdata.org)

  8. We all need coaches when digesting information that’s about us. When presenting data about a program to someone who manages that initiative, they’re bound to have conflicting feelings in what they see, especially if the results are not as positive as they hoped for. Keep in mind end-users receptivity to digesting findings that you present. Perhaps they may need a coach – that is, someone who can sit down with them to objectively share the analysis and discuss possible next steps.

  9. Create a call to action. Data findings often are presented in an FYI way – that is, it’s interesting, perhaps even worthy of forwarding to colleagues, but there isn’t an overt call to action in the data visualization. Think about whether you can include such a call to action in what you’re communicating. For example, could your readers be persuaded to sign up to join a campaign? Could they register to get alerts when these data are updated, so that you can include their contact info in your databases? Can they send a note to an elected official, presenting targeted data for their region? Before you publish, think about the ways in which you can create calls to action from the data you’re presenting.  After all, your audiences can be your information ambassadors to help you spread and amplify your message.

  10. Finally, let’s not forget to make data fun. We shouldn’t assume that, because it’s data, it needs to be serious. There are a number of organizations – particularly news outlets – that are turning data into games and intellectual exercises. Their goal is to draw the user in, engage them in the content, and encourage them to share the findings with others.
    Examples: New York TimesVox

Please reach out to me if you would like me to share the presentation on which this summary is based with your organization. 

California Data Sources

This regularly updated catalog is compiled from a survey sent to roughly 100 individuals across the state of California, asking them what data resources they turn to when they need publicly available data about California.  

The listing originally was created for communities participating in the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative.

Asthma Data Tool
California Breathing | California Department of Public Health
Asthma data broken out by county and age.

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This survey collects data about health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventative services. The 500 cities project, which is sponsored by the CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides Census tract-level estimates derived from BRFSS for 500 cities, including about 120 cities in California.

Broadband & Health (Connect2Health)
FCC
Search for a county in the U.S. to obtain data on that county’s broadband access rate, along with comparisons to a number of health measures.

California Health & Human Services Open Data Portal
California Health & Human Services Agency
More than 300 health/human services-related datasets from the state of California, on demographics, diseases, the environment, facilities and services, health care, workforce, and other topics.

California Open Data Portal
State of California
The open data portal for the state of California, linking to datasets across state departments and agencies.

Cancer Registry
California Cancer Registry
Data about both cancer incidents and mortality are available at a county level, and broken down by type of cancer, sex, and race/ethnicity.

CARES Engagement Network
University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems
A mapping platform that offers thousands of data layers, as well as a report builder for those who need to prepare community health needs assessments.

CDC Data
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In addition to the BRFSS data noted above, this data catalog provides access to other publicly available data from the CDC. Among the CDC’s offerings, the CDC Wonder data query tool is one frequently used resource.

Census Bureau (American FactFinder)
US Census Bureau
A compilation of data from a variety of US Census surveys, including the American Community Survey.

If you need information or ideas about how to utilize these data and transform facts drawn from these sites into action, or if you know of additional resources, please reach out.

Child Welfare Indicator Project
UC-Berkeley and California Department of Social Services
A wealth of data covering child abuse, foster care, and other child welfare topics are available by county.

Children Now Scorecard
Children Now
An interactive tool that provides county-level data on 30 measures related to child well being.

CHIS (California Health Interview Survey)
UCLA
The California Health Interview Survey provides data on health topics for all counties in California, based on interviews with roughly 20,000 Californians. Data from the survey are available through AskCHIS. More localized (e.g. zip code-level) estimates can be found at AskCHIS Neighborhood Edition.

CHKS (California Healthy Kids Survey)
WestEd and the California Department of Education
CHKS provides school district-level data to help improve academic performance, as well as the social, emotional, behavioral, and physical health of California students. In addition to CHKS (a survey of students), this website offers access to surveys of school staff and parents.

City Health Dashboard
New York University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Economic, health, and environmental data by city and Census tract are available for the 500 largest cities in the country, including roughly 120 cities in California.

College Data (California State System)
The CalState University System
Data on college access, enrollment, graduation, and labor market outcomes.

College Data (University of California System)
The University of California System
Dashboards on graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, doctoral programs, cost of attendance and other breakdowns for all schools in the University of California system.

Community Colleges Data Mart
California Community College Chancellor’s Office
A wide array of data are available related to community college in California, including student counts, student services, courses, faculty and staff, and outcomes.

Community Burden of Disease and Cost Engine
California Department of Public Health
Over 15 years of condition-specific mortality burden data, using a range of measures, are displayed at the county, community, and Census tract levels through interactive rankings, charts, maps, and trend visualizations.

Community Commons
Institute for People, Place, and Possibility
Access to wide-ranging, community-level data and mapping tools for locations across the U.S.

County Health Rankings and Road Maps
University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Data and rankings for all counties in the US on health-specific measures, as well as on indicators that influence health.

Crime Data (Open Justice)
California Office of the Attorney General
Crime data, by local jurisdiction, for locations across California.

Data.gov
U.S. Government
The open data portal for the U.S. government, linking to datasets across federal agencies.

Data USA
Deloitte, Datawheel
Demographic, health, housing, and other data are available for locations — including counties and cities — across the US. Users also can compare two locations across multiple measures.

DiversityDataKids
Brandeis University
Hundreds of measures of child well being, broken down by county and metropolitan area. Data also are available for roughly a dozen large cities and school districts in California.

Ed-Data
EdSource and the California Department of Education
Timely and comprehensive data about K-12 education in California. Data are available at the county, district, and school level.

Education Data for California Schools (DataQuest)
California Department of Education
Data on test results, enrollment, physical fitness scores, absenteeism, and other topics are available by school, district, or county.

Election Data Archive
Sacramento State University and the California Secretary of State Office
Data are provided for local (e.g. city, county, school districts) elections, including for candidate and ballot measures.

Environmental Health Screening Tool/CalEnviroScreen
CalEPA
CalEnviroScreen identifies California communities by census tract that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, multiple sources of pollution.

Environmental Health Tracking Program
Tracking California
A wide array of data at the convergence of public health and the environment, including measures of air quality, birth defects, climate change, lead poisoning, and traffic volume.

Environmentally Regulated Sites
CalEPA
Data are available for environmentally regulated sites across California, including those with hazardous materials and waste, state and federal cleanups, impacted ground and surface waters, and toxic materials.

Food Insecurity
Feeding America
County-level data about food insecurity rates, meal costs, and nutrition program eligibility.

Health Care Almanac
California Health Care Foundation
A series of publications offering objective information on health care costs, coverage, quality, and delivery. The Almanac provides regularly updated data and analysis on California’s health care system.

Health Care Cost & Quality Atlas
Integrated Health Care Association, the California Health Care Foundation, and the California Health and Human Services Agency
Multi-payer data by geographic region—including commercial insurance, Medicare, and Medi-Cal—on more than 30 standardized measures of health care quality, cost, patient cost sharing, and utilization. The aim is to help purchasers, health plans, and policymakers focus performance improvement initiatives.

Health Care Data from OSHPD
California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development
Nearly 6,000 health care facilities across the state submit data to OSHPD, and OSHPD publishes these and more data, broken out by topics ranging from cost transparency to utilization to facility attributes to workforce.

HealthyCity
The Advancement Project
Highly customizable maps with wide-ranging data focused on California. Users also can upload their own data.

Healthy Places Index
Public Health Alliance of Southern California
Explore Census tract-level factors that predict life expectancy. The Healthy Places Index provides scores and detailed data on specific areas that shape health, including housing, transportation, and education. The website also offers a policy guide with practical solutions for improving community conditions and health.

Hospital Quality (CalHospitalCompare.org)
CalHospitalCompare.org
Wide-ranging data about the quality of California’s 400-plus hospitals. Data are available for each hospital on patient experience, healthcare-acquired infections, patient safety, ED care, and other topics.

IHME (Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington)
IHME
PDF data reports are available for counties across the country, and include data on life expectancy, mortality rates (by condition), and disease prevalence.

Immigration & Citizenship Data
LiveStories
Data available by state, county, or city for locations nationwide on where immigrants were born and live; when they arrived; what languages they speak; and how they’re faring (e.g., educational and poverty status).

Injury & Death Data (EpiCenter)
California Department of Public Health
A comprehensive source of California injury data that includes all types of injuries that result in death, hospitalizations, or emergency department visits.

Kids Count
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
This national resource offers child-related data for California’s largest cities.

Kidsdata
Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health
Child-related data are available for every city, county, and school district in California. Roughly 600 indicators can be visualized as maps and graphs. Fact sheets and contextual information, including policy implications, are available for more than 50 topics.

Let’s Get Healthy California
California Department of Public Health
Data are available for the six goal areas identified by this State of California taskforce: healthy beginnings, living well, end of life, redesigning the health system, creating healthy communities, and lowering the cost of care.

Life Expectancy Data (USALEEP)
National Center for Health Statistics, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems
Newly released Census tract-level life expectancy data.

Livability Index
AARP
An index that scores neighborhoods and communities for services and amenities that impact individuals’ lives, including housing, transportation, civic engagement, and the environment.

Local Government Financial Data
California State Controller’s Office
Revenues, spending, and other financial data are available for cities, counties, transit operators, and other local entities.

National Equity Atlas
PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity
City and regional data on changing demographics, racial inclusion, and the economic benefits of equity.

Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed)
California Department of Public Health
Local data on topics related to the SNAP-Ed program: obesity, nutrition, physical activity, food insecurity and program eligibility.

Nursing Home/Long-Term Care Quality (CalQualityCare.org)
UCSF
Quality of care data are available for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospice, home health, and other long-term care facilities and provider in California.

Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard
California Department of Public Health
County and statewide data related to opioid misuse. Available dashboards enable surveillance of short and long-term goals currently targeted by California’s Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention program.

Opioid Pain Pill Database
The Washington Post
The Washington Post obtained data from the Drug Enforcement Administration to show the number of pain pills provided in a given county, with the information provided by manufacturer, distributor, and local pharmacy.

Opportunity360 (Measures of Pathways to Local Opportunities)
Enterprise
Type in an address, and get a 20-page Census tract-level report with detailed data on housing stability, education, health and well being, economic security, and mobility/transportation. Data are compared to your local region, the state, and the nation.

The Opportunity Atlas
Census Bureau and Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights Group
This website provides Census tract-level estimates on whether individuals in a given neighborhood are likely to grow up rich or poor. Its focus on income mobility is addressed by looking at children born between 1978 and 1983.

PolicyMap
PolicyMap
A mapping tool that provides data on hundreds of measures for locations across the US. Access to some data and website features requires a paid subscription.

Race Counts
The Advancement Project
A tracking tool of racial disparities in California at the county and city level. Data are available in seven issues areas: democracy, economic opportunity, crime and justice, access to health care, healthy built environment, education, and housing.

Regional Opportunity Index
UC-Davis Center for Regional Change
An index of community and regional opportunity that can be used to help understand social and economic opportunity in California’s communities.

School Dashboard
California Department of Education
School-level data about how public schools are meeting the needs of students in California.

Survey Data from PPIC
Public Policy Institute of California
This searchable database provides polling results from PPIC surveys dating back to 1998.

Strong Start Index (Data on Children at Birth)
First 5 Association and USC’s Children’s Data Network
By leveraging information collected at birth for every baby born in California, this resource provides Census tract-level data on assets that promote resilience in children.

Traffic Collision Data (Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System)
California Highway Patrol
A database of collision data. These data also are available from a UC-Berkeley tool, the Transportation Injury Mapping System.

Water Quality
California State Water Boards
Data about surface water quality in California.

Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Measures
100 Million Healthier Lives
Measures of equity, community vitality, public safety, the economy (e.g. employment and income) and other breakdowns to show the connections between social conditions, health, community, and well-being. 

Women’s Well-Being Index
The California Budget and Policy Center and the Women’s Foundation of California
A county-by-county breakdown of how women in California are faring. The index includes multiple measures across five categories: health, personal safety, employment & earnings, economic security and political empowerment (data, as well as downloadable fact sheets, also are available for the 30 individual measures that make up the index).

Home Page Content

I remember when I began to actively work with data as a tool for communication. It was in the early 2000s, and I helped launch an initiative to publish and visualize local data about the well being of children in California.

We were a family with young kids, living in a town for which extensive data were available. What could be easier, I thought? Facts were readily available, and I had connections to new parents like me, who surely would be motivated not only to pay attention to these data, but to act on them by advocating for improvements in local conditions.

I learned over the years, however, that just having compelling, local data was not enough to activate community change. 

This experience has stuck with me, and I established Hillcrest Advisory to help enterprises working to achieve social impact build up their capacity to communicate with data. My aim is simple: To ensure that social sector organizations are effective communicators of data, leveraging numbers and stories to make a compelling case to audiences they want to reach.

Learn more about my background and the work of Hillcrest Advisory: 

Results

Data can be a potent communication tool to help organizations achieve their outcomes, and Hillcrest Advisory can help you: 

  • Put issues of importance on the public agenda.

  • Educate key constituents who may need guidance to see your vantage point.

  • Inspire your audiences to take a stand or an action. They could join a cause; make a contribution; vote for a policy; draft a bill; improve a regulation; or change an unhealthy behavior.

  • Nurture collaboration in communities, connecting disparate organizations and enabling them to identify problems of common concern and forge solutions together.

  • Illuminate how well public programs are functioning and where adjustments may need to be made.

  • More broadly, improve public discourse and decrease partisanship

Data is fuel to accomplish all of this. You may have the internal capacity to find and manipulate the data. You even may know what the conclusions are – that is, what the data say, based on your analysis. But to see impact, you also need to connect with constituents via a persuasive, cogent narrative, with messaging and presentation formats that are rooted in the needs of audiences whom you need to reach and persuade. That’s where Hillcrest Advisory comes in.

Here are some examples of how Andy Krackov, Hillcrest Advisory’s founder, has helped organizations throughout his extensive career in the public sector: 

  • California’s Open Data Program: Through Andy’s four-year stewardship of California Health Care Foundation’s (CHCF) open data initiative, he partnered with the State of California’s health agency to launch a highly regarded open data program. The foundation’s goal was broader than just encouraging the state to publish its treasure trove of data. CHCF also wanted to encourage statewide use of these data and build a bridge between state staff and local individuals that would help the health agency look outward and seek community input when improving its data products and offerings. The results of this partnership between the state and the foundation were detailed in this blog post, co-written by Andy and Michael Wilkening, currently the Secretary for the California Health and Human Service’s Agency.

  • Kidsdata.org: Andy helped established, and, for roughly ten years, manage this program of the Lucile Packard Foundation, which is aimed at using data to raise awareness of children’s issues across California. The program, which began as an initiative for two Bay Area counties, was twice expanded by the foundation’s board, first to seven additional Bay Area counties and then to all cities, school districts, and 58 counties in California. Beyond managing web operations, Andy launched and oversaw an array of editorial and outreach products to encourage use of these local data. Outreach involved social media, community meetings across the state, forging partnerships at a local and state level, e-mail newsletters, surveys of parents, and crucial website enhancements, such as simple fact sheets, and data alerts tailored to each individual’s needs.

  • California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative: Andy recently began a project, funded by the California Endowment, to provide data storytelling coaching to 12 local accountable communities for health in California. These communities need to leverage data as a tool to persuade local businesses, policymakers, and others to focus on efforts to improve a particular health condition, such as opioid misuse, asthma, or cardiovascular disease. Andy’s role is help them create compelling data stories and, simultaneously, build up their capacity to carry forward this data communication work.

  • Shiftworkers, by the Numbers: This Velir-created data story was built in partnership with the communication firm, Purpose, through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The aim was to use a combination of poignant quotes, first-person videos, and other story elements, along with data, to explain the challenges affecting those in the United States who don’t know from week to week what their work schedule will be. As Velir’s Vice President for Data Strategy, Andy’s roles in this project included developing top-level messaging based on data findings; managing the storyboard process and relationship with the client; and drafting and editing the written content that supports the illustrations and visualizations.

  • CalHospitalCompare: When he was at the California Health Care Foundation, Andy managed the foundation’s program to provide health care consumers in California with easy-to-digest ratings and data on hospital (and nursing home) quality. Beyond funding and providing program leadership for these two websites, Andy also guided efforts to create other vehicles for summarizing data, including this simple infographic on disparities in the quality of maternity care in California.

  • Primary Health Care Performance Initiative: This initiative, a partnership of the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, Ariadne Labs, and Results for Development, contracted with Velir on the launch of a revamped website that features country-level data on primary health care. Velir took responsibility for the build and design of the site, and Andy’s main role was to offer strategic input that helped assemble the a foundation for this website redesign. He interviewed end-users across the globe, as well as program leadership, in order to develop a roadmap for website enhancements and data-related outreach. 
  • The Commonwealth Fund’s Quality-Spending Interactive: Also build by Velir, Andy’s role in this project was to help ensure visualization features were assembled in a way to be both useful and used by key audiences nationwide and that the complex health care-related messaging was clear and concise. Andy worked with the team at Velir to iterate on functionality for the visualizations and wrote and edited content.
  • American Heart Association Story Map: Velir partnered with the American Heart Association to pilot a story map tool that can both share Census tract-level data findings for five cities in the Northeast, and provide photos and other on-the-ground information on local programs to prevent heart disease. I managed the relationship with the client; presented draft versions of the tool to key American Heart Association constituents to get input; obtained and analyzed data and developed related messaging; and edited content provided by the AHA.