Using data to drive change: String together enough neighborhoods and you move a county. Solve a few counties and you change a state.
Communities of Hope start with bold local leaders who share a common sense of purpose and direction, such as the efforts in Cities United and Paintsville. But when it comes to tackling deep-seated challenges, good intentions aren’t enough. We need a new set of tools to get the work done, and this is where data comes in.
Most Americans would agree that a child’s ZIP code shouldn’t determine her chance to succeed. Yet we know that living in certain ZIP codes can impact the likelihood of future success. Growing up in specific ZIP codes can significantly increase the risk of abuse and neglect, of dropping out of school, of becoming homeless, of going to jail or of struggling to make ends meet as an adult.
There are approximately 42,000 ZIP codes in America, and we have volumes of data on every one of them – information that can help identify some of the most pressing challenges faced by children and families.
Think of data as a telescope. The more you zoom in, the more detailed images become. Something that looked smooth and featureless to the naked eye might, under magnification, reveal tall ridges and deep valleys. With each tighter focus, the resolution increases our knowledge of the landscape.
But too often, data is presented at a resolution that obscures as much as it enlightens. For example, reports of spiking child abuse and neglect cases in a particular state might indicate a problem, but the numbers don’t tell us enough unless we focus more closely.
Put the same data at a higher resolution and you might find that only a handful of counties account for 75 percent of the spike. Turn the knob further and you might then see that a handful of ZIP codes within those counties contain the bulk of the abuse reports. Move closer and you see that specific blocks within these ZIP codes face the most challenges.
When the resolution becomes clearest you have the ability to more effectively target your efforts.
ZIP code and other geographic-based data help break down larger areas to the community level. It is at that level where we can better define and start to solve our problems. String together enough neighborhoods and you move a county. Solve a few counties and you change a state.