Monday, September 26, 2011

Data is good, just not sufficient

Census, American Community Survey, and Kids Count are but a few examples of the latest headline-grabbing sources and reports of data.   You'd think I'd be thrilled with these reports.   After all, I'm the first one to say that data is important, having long preached about the value of and need for data.

But that's just it.   Data alone is not incredibly valuable.   Talking about the data may make us feel like we are doing something, moving the ball down the field, effecting change.   Unfortunately, this is not the case. Data analyzed and used to create public policy and practice solutions to problems, on the other hand, is valuable.   Very valuable.

Sociologist and blogger Johanna Bockman's post The Decline of Rental Housing in Ward 6 and DC (UPDATE: Link fixed 9/26, 10:40 am) does a good job of presenting data and combining it with a public policy question.   Bockman considers the cost of housing rental and ownership along with the very real earnings levels of various worker types.   This is what she writes:

Many would argue that it is good to increase the number of home-owners in these areas. However, the demand for rentals is ever increasing, especially for affordable units for interns, low-wage workers, etc. The supply of affordable rentals does not meet the demand. This is a nationwide trend. Even more problematic is the conversion of rental properties into owner-occupied properties, which displaces the poor. From the incredibly informative Housing Policy in the United States 2010 textbook, we know that the average nationwide income for those working as elementary school teachers ($49,781), LPN nurses ($38,941), security guards ($29,401), and cashiers ($19,757) would not allow them to buy a house or condo. Of course, many of the new rental units available are far outside the price range of the average hourly wage for those working as LPN nurses ($15.72), security guards ($14.13), janitors ($11.57), and cashiers ($9.50), who are also in poverty. What can be done to stop the decline in affordable rentals?

Others can take Bockman's work and propose solutions to solve the disconnect between rental housing numbers and affordability for Ward 6 residents.

There are myriad issues that could benefit from data analysis for the purpose of recommending public policy and practice fixes.   Issues ripe for such work are out of school time, violence prevention, violence intervention, parent education and support, child abuse and neglect prevention, teen pregnancy prevention, truancy prevention, and truancy intervention.

There is no better time than now to do this work.   The city's FY 2013 budget process kicks off October 6.   Between early October and December, agencies will be developing their budgets.   At the same time, the mayor's budget and other senior staff will be thinking budget.

What data-driven (analytical) solutions will you contribute to public policy and practice in DC?