One of the many benefits of serving as the co-chair of this year’s APDU Conference was having the opportunity to review submissions for panels and presentations in our first-ever call for entries for the conference. There were so many excellent submissions that it was very difficult to choose, but the conference committee did a wonderfully disciplined job of selecting the entries that aligned closely with our theme of communicating data around data innovation, integration and communication. The conference committee had the enviable task of determining keynotes and assembling panels for the breakout sessions. The breakout sessions are often one of the most useful aspects of the conference for me as the manager of data at PolicyMap, due to the fruitful discussions about using public data to understand public policy issues.
Which is why I chose to moderate and helped to design the breakout session, “Innovative Approaches to Understanding Our Most Pressing Public Policy Issues: Lessons in Education and Opportunity.” The panel explored the use of public data in policy topics such as the opioid epidemic, homelessness and education and opportunity disparities. Our panel consisted of three prominent professionals from progressive national think tanks and foundations. They discussed their research and recommendations for addressing issues faced by communities across the US. They also discussed their methodologies that rely on publicly accessible data, as well as the materials produced by these initiatives that help policy practitioners, state and local governments, and advocates to address issues related to opportunity, well-being, education and public health.
Jennifer Thornton, Manager of Data as a Strategic Asset at Pew Charitable Trusts, discussed solving public policy problems with administrative data using five action steps that state governments can employ to address large-scale challenges. Jennifer explained that as states increasingly share their data across programs and agencies, and perform advanced analytics, they can attain a more accurate understanding of their resources, a more comprehensive picture of how services are used, and a greater understanding of the root cause of issues. Jennifer described the findings from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ 50-state study (forthcoming, will be available here) that focuses on the productive and creative ways states have used administrative data to address problems and inform decision-making. Jennifer shared compelling data success stories and data-driven strategies that a few states have used that others can adopt to solve public problems.
Laura Speer, Associate Director Policy Reform and Advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, discussed their perennially successful Kids Count Data Center and Data Book, and she described the annual media uptake of their resources around child well-being that her group packages and provides. Laura talked about Annie E. Casey’s Race for Results project that focuses on children’s opportunity and success milestones across racial and ethnic groups. Laura illuminated the necessity of public data in her work, as Kids Count relies on sources including the National Survey of Children’s Health, the National Vital Statistics System, the U.S. Census and the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey.
Courtney Brown, Vice President of Strategic Impact at Lumina Foundation, talked about Lumina Foundation’s dedication to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60% by 2025, their “Goal 2025.” She explained that for Lumina Foundation to achieve this goal, they need to be able to understand the current education levels and certifications of Americans, and they need to track those data over time. She discussed the pivotal role of the American Community Survey’s postsecondary attainment data in their new online data tool, A Stronger Nation. She also discussed the challenge with finding data related to high-quality certificates and other credentials because those achievements are not included in the standard Census ACS categories.
The panel wrapped up with an engaging exchange around each of the panelists’ topic areas, as well as a conversation about the growing appetite for data and data visualization and packaging, as researchers increasingly rely on publicly available tools to address public policy issues.