PolicyMap’s Use of Big Data and Open Data

Here at PolicyMap, we often get questions about what kind of Big Data we have and what our role is in the Open Data movement.  After reading a recent Guardian article, we decided that it was high time we addressed these questions for our blog readers.

In the Guardian article, Joel Gurin at NYU’s GovLab addresses some of the differences between big data and open data.  He explains that, “While big data is defined by size, open data is defined by its use.  Big data is the term used to describe very large, complex, rapidly-changing datasets.”

The way we think about it here at PolicyMap is that big data is much larger than the aggregated data that we generally provide to our users.  Big data often includes rows and rows of individual transactions, for example, whereas the administrative data we use includes rows that represent aggregated information like groups of transactions at a geographic level, such as a county.  Our data doesn’t target individuals, but helps describe communities.

Gurin goes on to describe open data: “Open data is accessible public data that people, companies and organisations can use….the data must be publicly available for anyone to use, and it must be licensed in a way that allows for reuse.”  This is what makes up much of what we provide on PolicyMap.  For us, it’s data that the government has provided through free and publicly accessible online downloads, and it’s available without restrictions on us reusing it on PolicyMap.

Gurin’s article provides a very informative Venn diagram on the relationship between big data and open data:

Two of our Data Team members had the chance to see Joel Gurin speak at the Economic Impact of Open Data event earlier this month, an event hosted by the Center for Data Innovation.  At the event, they also attended the official release of Open Data 500.  PolicyMap is one of the Open Data 500 featured companies that use government data as a primary business resource.  We look forward to reporting back on our continued work with the Open Data 500 initiative.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with any questions about these trending data concepts.

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Kentucky Department for Public Health: PolicyMap for Preparedness

The Kentucky Department for Public Health is one of PolicyMap’s newest subscribers in the public health realm. The Public Health Preparedness office uses PolicyMap’s health and demographic data offerings to provide useful information for citizens and practitioners.

Health Risks and Resources

Kentucky Public Health developed its Health Risks and Resources map to give local public health personnel greater knowledge of population characteristics to facilitate response to vulnerable populations in case of an emergency. By overlaying health resources with needs, public health practitioners can increase their awareness of challenges well before an emergency occurs. Visit the map at the Kentucky Safety and Prevention Alignment Network to learn more.
Kentucky Department for Public Health

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PolicyMap’s new interface featured on Generocity.org

Read more on Generocity.org

The Reinvestment Fund Updates PolicyMap for Easier Use
By Andy Sharpe | Posted on Monday, April 21st, 2014GenerosityBlogImage

Philadelphia-based community development financial institution (CDFI) The Reinvestment Fund came out with a re-designed version of PolicyMap. The data mapping and analysis tool was tweaked to make it simpler to use and navigate. The website also has more functions, including advanced multi-tiered mapping and custom data tools, according to Maggie McCullough, president of PolicyMap.

The mapping tool represents various data sets, including demographic, job, housing and lending information, that are useful to policy makers and investors in particular.

Software developers found that PolicyMap needed a more accessible interface. The user interface has now been altered to look more like an online shopping interface for those who are not as experienced with online mapping.

User feedback led to the adoption of a full-screen map, as opposed to the previous map which was just two-thirds of screen. Legends are also able to be dragged, which enables users to see other parts of the maps. Three-layer maps, formerly known as analytics, stand out more and are generally easier to use.

Since the update, PolicyMap has added new institutions as customers, such as the library systems at George Mason University and the University of Massachusetts. These academic libraries offer all students and faculty unrestricted access to the complete PolicyMap through a site license. While these libraries have committed to PolicyMap, a number of organizations have signed up for a free trial of the software in the weeks since the re-launch, McCullough said.

PolicyMap has been assisting a number of customers and trial users in the nonprofit, governmental, financial, and academic sectors since it’s inception in 2007. A couple of local community development organizations that use PolicyMap are People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia and Impact Services in Kensington.

McCullough emphasized that many local and regional community development corporations and organizations elect to skip the paid version of PolicyMap for the free version. Over 80 percent of the information that is transferred from the public domain onto the software, she said, is accessible on the free version. Community development corporations (CDC) and neighborhood development organizations can use all this centralized information in grant applications and presentations.

For example, using the free version of PolicyMap, “[CDCs] can take the map to their neighborhood and toggle on and off the public layers, click on the map to learn more about how a place compares to the higher geographies in which it sits and create comparative bar charts or time series charts,” McCullough said.

In addition, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation has purchased the program for all grant recipients, including CDCs like the Logan CDC, for a few years. These grantees receive full access to the paid version, and a report that analyzes how a community has changed over time, relative to nearby communities. “The report enables them to track key metrics including population changes, school performance, home sale prices and housing vacancy quickly and easily,” McCullough said.

The University of Pennsylvania was PolicyMap’s first university customer. Since UPenn, Harvard, Rutgers, Penn State, NYU, American University, and many other colleges and universities across the country have purchased PolicyMap. Municipal bodies in Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have also subscribed to PolicyMap.

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The Changing Face of the United States

When it comes to data, some demographic trends are more easily captured than others. The country’s shifting racial and ethnic makeup is perhaps towards the top of this list. The fact that the US is an increasingly multiracial country has been discussed in many forums, such as the Smithsonian, the New York Times, and other news outlets. Last October, National Geographic published an interesting article called “The Changing Face of America” in which the article’s author, Lise Funderburg, and photographer, Martin Schoeller, attempt to put a human face on the country’s increasingly multiracial nature. Funderburg is a lecturer at Rutgers-Camden’s MFA program, where PolicyMap’s own Bernie Langer is currently attending.

While there is no doubt that the multiracial population is growing quickly, this has proven a tough phenomenon to adequately capture with data. One reason for this is that individuals choose to self-identify in different ways. As Funderburg points out, for most multiracial Americans, “identity is a highly nuanced concept, influenced by politics, religion, history, and geography, as well as by how the person believes the answer will be used.” President Obama offers an example of the complexity of self-identification. Since he is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, it’s notable that he selected the “Black, African Am., or Negro” option on the 2010 Census (as opposed to other options of checking “white” as well, “some other race” or writing in “multiracial”).

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Use the Data Loader and upload your data today!


PolicyMap’s data loader lets subscribers easily load their own address level files to view on top of any of the over 15,000 indicators available in PolicyMap. Choose to keep your data private, share it confidentially within your organization or post it for the public to access.

Watch our video to see just how easy it is to use!

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Take a Virtual Historic Tax Credit Road Trip

The Historic Tax Credit program brings history to life, providing a 20% tax credit for the restoration of a certified historic structure that complies with rehabilitation guidelines. Good news for those of us who are both historic preservation nerds and PolicyMap users: historic tax credit sites have recently been updated to include projects approved during the 2013 fiscal year, making it easy to plan your next road trip from the comfort of your home or office.

Historic Tax Credits and Route 66If you travel along Route 66, for example, you’ll pass through a great deal of history. Although many iconic Route 66 buildings have been lost along with the road itself (after being bypassed by many major highways, the road was officially decommissioned in 1985), there are plenty of places leveraging this history as an economic engine. There are thousands of buildings that have received the historic tax credit, but only a handful have been completed along Route 66 since its designation as an official historic corridor in 1999. However, many more Route 66 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places – meaning they could be eligible for rehab funds.
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PolicyMap attends Unveiling of Open Data 500

PolicyMap attended a panel discussion on The Economic Impact of Open Data today, hosted by the Center for Data Innovation in Washington D.C.  Speakers focused on the opportunities and challenges associated with making government data more accessible and useful, and the potential gain to the private sector in leveraging data resources from federal, state and local government.

GovLab, the Governance Lab at NYU, unveiled http://www.opendata500.com/ a website which allows you to see what kinds of companies leverage data from each agency of the federal government. As an organization dedicated to bringing you the most up-to-date data from various federal and statistical sources, PolicyMap is happy to be a part of the OpenData500 project!

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PolicyMap Infographic and April 2014 Data Updates


Infographic from PolicyMap Shows Impact of Census Tract Boundary Changes


Drive into any US town and you’ll see the famous population sign. Whether it’s a metropolitan city with a population in the millions or a small farming community populated with more animals than people, the numbers we see on those signs are merely a suggestion.

Census boundaries change all the time — people move in and out of areas, businesses close or open, redevelopment takes place — and these changes make it nearly impossible to accurately compare a region over time. To make this easier, we built translation tables for ever census tract in the nation to make it simpler to see how places have changed over time. And we made this table available for FREE on PolicyMap. Check out today’s blog posting to see how this works in a place like the West Bronx, NY.

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Nationwide Census Tract Comparisons on PolicyMap

Apples to Apples

(click onto image for full size)

Drive into any US town and you’ll see the famous population sign. Whether it’s a metropolitan city with a population in the millions or a small farming community populated with more animals than people, the numbers we see on those signs are merely a suggestion. Census boundaries change all the time — people move in and out of areas, businesses close or open, redevelopment takes place — and these changes make it nearly impossible to accurately compare a region over time. However, a lot of people depend on this information – politicians look at census tracts to better understand where their party is more or less represented, and federal agencies use census tracts to determine funding for numerous programs.
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2013Q2 Home Sale Data Now Available

News sources are reporting large-scale increases in home sale prices nationwide. Here at PolicyMap our local home sale data has been updated to 2013Q2. The news is good. Here below you’ll see two maps showing the percent change in median sales price in California counties. The first shows the change from 2010Q2-2011Q2, and the second shows 2012Q2-2013Q2. The maps have identical ranges, allowing you to see that the declines (oranges) from two years ago are now replaced with increases (purples).


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