Healthy City Data Mapping

As We See It: Data mapping vital for resources

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   04/13/2012 01:30:29 AM PDT

Local government budget hearings are looming, which means the annual debate over funding nonprofit social service agencies will dominate much of the discussion.

Elected officials have usually had little more to go on in making decisions about who gets what than the subjective and anecdotal testimony given by staff and clients of these organizations.

This year, however, decision-makers will have a new tool available to help decide where ever-dwindling dollars should go -- the Santa Cruz County Community Data Mapping Project.

Data mapping has long been used by business to figure out how to best reach customers by applying demographics and socioeconomic indicators. Now, the Santa Cruz County data project has the potential to change the way government interacts with non profit agencies by ensuring that funding allocations get to the people who most need help.

The data mapping project was developed by Healthy City, part of the Los Angeles-based Advancement Project, a public policy group that came out of the civil rights movement.

The data mapping tool is in use in 18 communities in California. An $88,000 grant by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation brought it here. The Santa Cruz Community Foundation, led by program director Christina Cuevas, has been the lead partner in rolling out the project and organizing training for nonprofits and public agencies.

The local section of the Healthy City website features data uploaded from a variety of sources, including U.S. Census reports and the United Way Community Assessment Project, along with data from the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, health organizations and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. Data is organized by three regions -- North, Mid and South County -- and can generate customized reports with maps and charts.

Putting data on a map is a far more effective way to analyze where services, and funding, should go than just looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. For instance, child care providers should look to South County if they want to go where the greatest needs are. The data maps show that more than half of the 15,000 children in the county up to age 5 without available licensed child-care space live in the Pajaro Valley-Watsonville area.

South County also needs more help from agencies that provide health care, food pantry services, housing and education -- about half of the residents in that region of the county are living on less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. According to the Healthy City site, 21 percent of South County residents don't have health insurance.

The data mapping tool shows that South County students also have a significantly higher truancy rate, which is an early indicator of a series of socioeconomic problems, including the potential to drop out of school altogether.

Agencies set up to provide treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, however, can look to North County. The data maps how nearly two thirds of the hospitalizations for mental health problems due to alcohol and/or drug abuse are in North County.

The free mapping tool can also be used by individuals to upload their own data for analysis, as well as posting photos and videos to help tell their story.

In a county of more than 262,000 people, with upwards of 100 or so nonprofit groups trying with less money to help different populations, the benefits of the Community Data Mapping Project are obvious. This year, funding agencies can make sure their decisions are directed to get resources and services to where they're most needed.

The Santa Cruz County data map is available at