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Open data can’t alleviate poverty, but here’s how it can help

The Intersection of Poverty and Data. May 16, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumMethod


Lead reporter Tony Abraham moderated the second of three panels at this event.
“By no means do I think publishing data sets on the internet is going to solve poverty.”

That’s how Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski introduced himself to attendees at Community Legal ServicesPhilly Tech Week event on poverty and data.

The panels were split into three sections: how big and open data harm the poor, how data can help the poor and what the future of data holds for impoverished communities.

Our sister site Technical.ly Philly has a solid wrap of the first panel, a look at how big data can lead to racist and classist hiring systems.

Read the full story

The second panel (note: moderated by this reporter) consisted of Wisniewski, CLS attorney Mike Hollander and Natassia Rozario, associate director of policy and advocacy at Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. All three provided examples of data being used as a tool to help alleviate poverty.

“Help” being the keyword.

Wisniewski said census data like income levels and population demographics can be used for targeted outreach and open property datasets and crime data have been used to track developers and shine light on socioeconomic disparity, respectively.

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Rozario talked about how data sharing between Camden’s three largest health care providers has been “pivotal” in finding who needs care and what the barriers to access are for them.


And Hollander discussed the role CLS’s data work has played in advocating for equity and taking action to do so, including the uncovering of the dismissal of a startling number of elder abuse cases across Pennsylvania and a tool for streamlining the criminal record expungement process.

The third panel, on the future of data and poverty, consisted of Philadelphia Legal Assistance Contract Performance Officer Jonathan Pyle, former Michael Nutter policy director Maia Jachimowicz (now ‎VP for evidence-based policy at D.C.-based nonprofit Results for America) and University of Pennsylvania GIS instructor Amy Hillier.

Pyle said the future could be bright.

“I think in the future, big data will allow advocates to dedicate actionable intelligence on an everyday basis,” he said. “We can do lots of things with data but it usually involves getting a special grant. I think it will become a thing we can do on an everyday basis.”

That will allow service providers to do what they do more efficiently, he said. But that kind of power is also going to be in the hands of folks who are looking to exploit the vulnerable.

Jachimowicz said data is one of the “most crucial tools in creating really strong public policy and figuring out what is working and what’s not, but privacy protections must be in place. Let’s talk about how privacy can maintain while data continues to open.”

Hillier pushed for more interaction between institutions, the public sector and private sector around public data analysis. Opening up a line of communication around a shared mission, she said, would help uncover socioeconomic realities.

And the “great promise of GIS,” she said, is to help make sense of all that data — in turn, helping us understand each other.

“Our charge is to make sure we’re doing it for the public good,” Jachimowicz said.


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