Data You Can Use


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How Data Chats Inform Community Conversations about COVID-19 Response



Nov 13 · 4 min read

Network of individuals’ faces connected by lines and icons representing social media (like a cellphone and a text bubble)

by Jake Cowan

Urban Institute

What do neighborhood residents think is the best way to engage with data about health conditions associated with COVID-19? What do they think should be done in response to COVID-19 and health inequities that disproportionately affect their neighborhoods?

To answer these questions, 11 Milwaukee neighborhoods have teamed up with Data You Can Use (DYCU), a local data intermediary, to plan and host data chats. A data chat is a facilitated conversation that builds data literacy and translates data to inform community decisions about investing in programs and services to improve neighborhood health and health equity. At the data chats in Milwaukee, participants are exploring data about several factors that increase people’s risk of contracting COVID-19, such as high blood pressure and employment in the service industry. The chats encourage residents with these risk factors to take extra precautions while recognizing that the patterns in the spread of the virus reflect long-standing racial and economic inequities shaped by public policy.

Moreover, the data chats give residents opportunities to relate to data as more than just numbers and percentages. For example, during the data chats, participants write down the names of 10 people they know. When they learn that 50 percent of the people in their neighborhoods have high blood pressure, a COVID-19 risk factor, their lists help them understand the scale of the risk and who in their lives could be affected. Seeing that five people they know could have this risk factor personalizes the data.

The data presented at these chats — most of which occurred in September and October 2020 — draw from data digests created by DYCU in April 2020 (a few data chats will take place in November 2020). The digests include neighborhood-level data related to COVID-19 risk factors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 500 Cities project and the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. They also include indicators and measures of equity and access from other recent DYCU data initiatives.

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Residents from Milwaukee’s Clark Square neighborhood learn about underlying health conditions related to COVID-19 at this socially-distant data chat.

Data You Can Use works closely with community partner organizations to plan the data chats and guide the conversations. Each neighborhood group that organizes a data chat for their community receives a grant from DYCU, which then works with each group during two or three pre-meetings to review data and provide guidance on what data to highlight during the chat. Each partner organization also identifies the virtual platform that works best for its community, decides when to hold the data chat, and recruits 10 participants. Several partner organizations have also translated their data digests into Spanish. DYCU has provided support for these translations, and also secured translation support for several data chats to be conducted in Spanish and English.

Conducting data chats virtually presents challenges, and DYCU is finding that each data chat is unique. For example, participants sometimes have challenges logging on to Zoom. During one data chat, most participants joined via phone, and DYCU talked through the data digest without the aid of data visualizations.

The biggest surprise for DYCU is that two communities requested that their data chats be held in person, with social distancing and a mask requirement for all participants. One was held in a public park, with data visualizations printed and posted on a presentation board. Another occurred on the porch of the sponsoring organization. Two other groups initially planned to hold their data chats in person but have since decided to hold them virtually as the weather in Wisconsin has grown colder and COVID-19 cases have spiked.

Despite these logistical challenges, communities that are participating in the chats are deeply engaged with the data. During the data chats, they are generating ideas and suggestions for action. Several have asked DYCU for scripts to use to continue hosting data chats. In the coming months, DYCU will work with community partners to learn more about their priorities for short- and long-term COVID-19 responses and solutions and about how they use information from the data chats to engage local government, funders, health systems, and others in discussions about these priorities.

We thank Katie Pritchard and Amy Rohan of Data You Can Use for their contributions to this blog. Data You Can Use is a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Using Data to Inform Local Decisions on COVID-19 Response & Recovery program and the Milwaukee partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, coordinated by the Urban Institute.

Using Local Health Data in a Pandemic 

Using Local Health Data in a Pandemic 

The public has seldom been exposed to as much data as we have since the COVID-19 pandemic hit American shores.

But data has its limitations—and not all data is equal!

Where it comes from? How it is used? What’s missing? These questions matter.

To help sort out the deluge of graphs, charts and diagrams that are spreading with the pandemic, Data You Can Use sought guidance from local experts at a virtual meeting of the Health data Users Group.

The report was based on prevalence at the local level using the RWJ 500 Cities data and conditions identified by the CDC as putting people at higher risk for adverse outcomes. The goal was to increase awareness and help neighborhood groups target resources.  What began as a short report for one neighborhood grew quickly to respond to suggestions and requests from others neighborhood organizations. With quick turnaround, the team at DYCU produced reports for an additional twelve neighborhoods and posted them on the website.

These reports are serving to “democratize the data” as neighborhood groups share them in their newsletters, translate them into the language of their residents, discuss them in online meetings, post them on their websites, and distribute them through their listservs. Edith Chavez, Community Organizer at Muskego Way Forward, for example, translated her report into Spanish, distributed it in her newsletter, and convened a  conversation about it at a virtual neighborhood meeting.

Because health is hyper-local, Data You Can Use released an interactive map showing prevalence by census tract and continues to refine this tool with the Health data Users Group. The tool can be used to help residents, funders, and planners best target resources, and increase awareness of the need for precautions.

Unfortunately, these underlying health disparities existed well before the COVID crisis and, without attention, will remain long after it passes. This data can be used to target resources appropriately, to raise awareness, and to focus on longer-term, more equitable recovery.

Despite the cautions and limitations, like our partners in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership we continue to believe that local data matters and that better data leads to better decisions, and better communities.

For more information, please contact:

Kathleen Pritchard, PhD, President
Data You Can Use, Inc.
[email protected]

Fellowship Experience at Data You Can Use

Building a Bridge between Criminology and Public Health

I’ve always been a curious person.
Constantly asking the 5 W’s of Who? What? When? Where? and Why?

Critical thinking and innovation are special ingredients that contribute to my appetite for learning and growth both personally and professionally. Having lived in a small village, different size cities, and two different countries contributes to my interest in learning about neighborhood composition; the architecture, the people, the culture, the art and also the challenges, poverty, segregation and systemic barriers.

Early on in my career I spent most of my time submerging myself in Psychology. This field was a perfect match that allowed me to constantly think of the Why? It wasn’t until I had been working as a research assistant for a study on disruptive behaviors of children exposed to trauma in Chicago neighborhoods that I really started paying attention to the impacts of violence. Soon after, I would find myself submerged in Criminal Justice journals and the relationship between violence and trauma. This was the first bridge between Psychology and Criminology. During my graduate program, I worked with a very talented researcher who was also passionate about studying violence and impacts on neighborhoods. This introduced me to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a way to study the spatial distribution of violence in Colombia. I spent the next few years working as a crime analyst for a police department where I continued to focus on the relationship between crime and geography. Turns out we are all curious people trying to answer the 5 W’s. The issue is that we tend to work independently within our own career disciplines, when so much overlaps.

I first heard of Public Health while working on a homicide and non-fatal shooting project at the police department. I was asked to partner with an analyst from an office of the health department who was also looking at the same data. I quickly learned that we both had very similar questions about the data and had a very similar objective…to understand the What? Where? and Why? Even though I had been focusing on understanding the spatial distribution of where these offenses were taking place, I had not really thought about root causes. Vice versa, my colleague understood root causes and public health concerns, but was not clear on how to interpret the crime data. We both understood that the ultimate goal was for more prosperous, healthy and safe communities, which is at the core of both public health and public safety.

That same year I met Dr. Katie Pritchard while working on a federal grant for a local neighborhood. The focus was on using data-driven strategies to address a public safety concern at the neighborhood level. Katie and her team introduced me to new concepts and ways of looking at data. Things like a logic model, asset mapping and community-participatory research were so interesting and kept me wanting to learn more. The idea of working together across sectors for one common goal and building partnerships to promote solutions while being guided by data and research seemed out of this world.

The Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellowship is a program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, housed in the School of Medicine and Public Health. This is a post-master’s program that focuses on training the next generation of public health leaders while providing valuable public health service that addresses the needs of public health agencies and their communities throughout Wisconsin. Service learning is at the core of the Fellowship. Each Fellow is placed with an agency for two years where they will complete the requirements of the program through a combination of service and training (for more information visit

For me, my placement site was clear from the beginning. I wanted to work with Data You Can Use. Katie and her team serve many roles including leaders, evaluators, data intermediaries, educators and community partners. Building on the foundation of community relations and engagement was very important. By working across sectors, I’ve been able to meet so many great organizations and community leaders.

One of my goals was to spend more time learning about Social Determinants of Health and Health Equity. Through my placement at Data You Can Use, and with the continuous support of my Fellow community, I was able to really think critically about systems and policies from both a macro and micro level. After all, Criminal Justice was just one of many broken systems that contribute to the inequities and disparities faced by many of our communities. This is especially true for communities of color who have suffered generations of poverty, systemic racism and who are overpoliced, over-researched, and whose voices are often missing at the table.

Once a month for the last two years, I attended learning community meetings which are day-long meetings that focus on a particular public health issue. These were particularly interesting because public health covers such a broad spectrum of issues that are related to our overall health and wellbeing. For example, from the County Health Rankings Model we know that community safety influences the health outcomes of a person/community. Unsafe neighborhoods can cause anxiety, depression, chronic stress and other health conditions. Other topics covered included mental health, mass incarceration, immigration, housing, food insecurity, and much more. The lesson here is to look at root causes to really understand the underlying factors that influence health and safety and move in a direction where we think about upstream solutions around systems while working together across sectors.

I could not end my reflection without mentioning the importance of using data to advance equity and using the context of structural, environmental and social conditions to tell a more complete story. The mantra used by Data You Can Use of “no data without stories and no stories without data” leaves a strong message. Too often, data, research and statistics have been used to create negative narratives causing further harm and perpetuate stereotypes. As we move into an era influenced by “data-driven” practices, artificial intelligences, etc., we must take a stand to ensure that data is used ethically and not as a weapon.

The bridge between Criminology and Public Health has changed the trajectory of my career in a very positive way. This experience has strengthened my leadership, sharpened my critical thinking, and allowed me to be innovative. Furthermore, continuing to ask the 5W’s has blended all of my previous fields of study together to create not only bridges, but highways as well.

I am grateful to my preceptor, Katie Pritchard and her team at Data You Can Use for all their guidance and dedication and to my Fellowship mentors, colleagues and leaders who have helped make this experience possible.

A Data Dream Webinar: Using Data Science to Empower the Future of Lindsay Heights

A Data Dream Webinar
Using Data Science to Empower the Future of Lindsay Heights

Wednesday, April 22
5:00pm – 6:00pm CT

Hosted on Facebook LIVE


NNIP Spotlight: Turning the Corner featured in “Best of 2019”

The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership published an article about Turning the Corner project. Click here to read more.



NNIP Spotlight: Milwaukee’s Amani Neighborhood Uses Data to Target Traffic Safety and Build Trust

The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership published an article about Milwaukee’s Amani Neighborhood.  To learn more about how the people in Amani are using data to identify safety issues and build relationships with the police, click here.

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Sarah Laurent’s field experience at DYCU

This summer, as part of a field experience collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, and Data You Can Use, I was able to complete my field experience requirement for the Master of Public Health program in biostatistics. Throughout my field experience at Data You Can Use, I was provided a plethora of opportunities to showcase and refine my data analysis, visualization, and presentation skills. When looking at different site locations for my field experience, I came across the Data You Can Use website. I was initially drawn to the liquor license map that was uploaded to the site in 2018. I like the interactive aspects of the map and thought that it would be useful for me to learn how to use mapping software. In addition, I was interested in exploring the relationship between binge drinking and liquor licenses due my public health background.

With the help of my preceptor, Kathleen Pritchard, I was able to develop a final project that incorporated my objectives for the field experience, as well as develop a useful tool for Data You Can Use. I created a descriptive map of liquor license locations and binge drinking prevalence rates throughout the City of Milwaukee. In addition, I created a report summarizing my findings from the map and presented my observations and recommendations to local stakeholders. To create my map, I utilized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 500 Cities 2016 dataset of binge drinking prevalence rates throughout the City of Milwaukee. I then added data on liquor license locations from the City of Milwaukee Open Data Portal to the map and set an automatic refresh interval so that the liquor license data would remain up-to-date. From there, I color coded the map according to binge drinking prevalence and liquor license expiration dates.

Before starting at Data You Can Use, I had very limited experience working with mapping software, and I was worried I would not be able to complete the tasks outlined at the beginning of the summer. I am extremely thankful for the support and guidance provided by the Data You Can Use team, and I am very satisfied with the final product. I hope that community partners find my map useful when examining the relationship between binge drinking prevalence rates and liquor licenses within their own communities. In addition, I hope that my map provides data and information for stakeholders looking to take action against problematic liquor license establishments. I feel that my field experience was an extremely valuable opportunity, and I hope that the liquor license map created in collaboration with Data You Can Use will provide useful information for community partners in the future.

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