Using Data to Create Opportunity for All

Dr. Tiffany Manuel
Dr. Tiffany Manuel, Vice President of Knowledge, Impact & Strategy at Enterprise Community Partners

PolicyMap has been working as a partner with Enterprise Community Partners to help create their new platform, Opportunity360. PolicyMap’s involvement can be seen in the widget and report in the site’s Measure section. Here we have a guest post from Enterprise’s Vice President of Knowledge, Impact & Strategy, Dr. Tiffany Manuel, on how data can be used to measure opportunity.

Where we live determines our life outcomes. However, access to the opportunities that make it possible for people to achieve their goals is slipping away for more and more Americans. Research shows that there has been a large decline in the rate of upward mobility across successive U.S. birth cohorts, from 92% of children born in 1940 earning more than their parents to only half of children born in 1984. Seventy percent of people born at the bottom of the income ladder will never reach the middle rung, and African American households are more likely than white peers to experience downward mobility.  This is in large part due to the impact of our neighborhood and community on what opportunities we have access to.

The notion that success relies solely on individual motivation and work ethic is a narrative we are far too comfortable with, despite evidence to the contrary. Focusing on the choices an individual makes, while not acknowledging the structural, systemic or spatial barriers that exist in society, fails to recognize the full range of factors that influence the outcomes that people achieve.

Opportunity OutcomesWe need to better understand the dynamic interaction between people, their homes, their neighborhoods, and the policies and systems that shape their access to better opportunities. For example, research shows that with access to stable, affordable homes, kids do better in the classroom, parents’ job prospects and performance increase, and people are healthier.

We need better ways to measure opportunity – what exists and therefore where we should invest. Armed with a shared understanding of how to measure opportunity, everyone with an interest in increasing it can use this information to design more equitable and inclusive communities through targeted investment in housing and community development.

Enterprise Community Partners recently launched an innovative platform called Opportunity360 to make the case that our most pressing challenges related to the economy, housing, education, health, transportation and social dynamics, are interconnected. Opportunity360 assesses the strengths and weaknesses of a community to understand where to target investments, and the cross-sector collaboration needed among businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, and community residents.

Opportunity360 is designed to make information about community outcomes and characteristics not only available, but easily usable to all, and for free. Opportunity360 considers both the pathways that can create communities of opportunity and the outcomes of community residents. It offers a comprehensive view into a neighborhood, serving as a starting point for understanding the strengths and needs of a specific location.

Sample chart from Opportunity360 showing the rental affordability gap.
Sample chart from Opportunity360

It measures whether people in a given place have access to the resources, institutions and services they need to pursue economic security, and how residents fare when it comes to housing, education, economic security, health and well-being, and mobility.

Because Opportunity360 uses over 200 indicators to provide a comprehensive illustration of the factors that drive positive opportunity outcomes, it can help answer key questions and change the way we address issues in the field such as poverty, inequality, and community investments. For example, is housing affordability an issue in a community because its housing is relatively expensive, because incomes are low, or some combination of both? How does one community compare to another that, at least on the surface, seems similar? What does a community need the most to give its residents greater opportunity?

Opportunity360 is not just an evaluation and measurement tool but a platform to help identify and target solutions, street by street, community by community, so that together, we can create smarter investments, more thoughtful solutions, and stronger communities.