Photo: Sebastian Sikora.

Learn more about the tool at a free workshop Thursday, Nov. 1.

Since its launch in 2017, the Kinder Institute's Houston Community Data Connections has helped connect communities and data to ask and answer questions about everything from the impact of Hurricane Harvey by neighborhood to the spatial mismatch between jobs and residents in the Houston area. Aimed at policymakers, nonprofits and residents, the program's interactive dashboard allows users to scan community profiles, investigate a variety of indicators and even compare across geographies and time. At a free workshop Thursday, the team behind the dashboard will help train both new and experienced users to get the most out of the platform while also unveiling several new sets of data, including evictions, licensed child care centers, demolition and construction permits and more. 

Part of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, HCDC "compiles and organizes neighborhood-level data from various sources to facilitate the use of data and inform decision-making." 

In the wake of Harvey, the critical role HCDC could play became apparent and the team mobilized to respond to user requests for information, launching earlier than anticipated. 

"I remember early on after Harvey, we were on the hunt for good data to inform outreach and service efforts to target the most vulnerable and hardest hit communities," said Diana Zarzuelo, chair of the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee's Data Workgroup and the senior director of strategy at Neighborhood Centers, Inc., in a testimonial.

But Zarzuelo quickly encountered what many nonprofits, city officials and residents do after a disruption like Harvey. "Data was really hard to find," she said.

Along with Houston's tech community, which helped create tools to organize rescue efforts and later, cleanup, HCDC put together the best available data, including FEMA flood estimates, to help determine which areas may have been hardest hit by the unprecedented storm. The team later added additional layers of information, including applications and approvals for federal disaster aid, neighborhood indicators that reflected pre-existing needs and vulnerabilities and other important data points to help guide recovery. 

"Houston Community Data Connections visualized a variety of data—FEMA Applications and needs, high flood estimates, 211 calls—making it accessible and user-friendly for the public," said Zarzuelo. "[W]e are grateful for their critical, early efforts and the ongoing support of the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee and Data Workgroup."

Citing HCDC's work as an example of the critical role data intermediaries can and should play in disaster management, DeeDee Kim wrote in her master's thesis while a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that, Harvey pushed HCDC and the Kinder Institute to rethink their role. "Harvey disrupted the research agenda for the Kinder Institute, and they reevaluated their priorities as a data intermediary and research institution," wrote Kim. "They ventured into new research areas such as mapping E. Coli levels in partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine and discovered that levels of E.Coli were 57 times the acceptable limit after flooding. While still in the long-term recovery phase, they plan to analyze post-Harvey data and will expand their data portal to include more datasets. They intend to push for more open data policies, gain access to federal data, and share information between Houston institutions and national NNIP partners."

Indeed, HCDC has continued to build up its datasets, adding a measure of income segregation, median household income, eviction filing rate as well as eviction rate, housing choice voucher information, percent of students enrolled in either public or private school, data on licensed daycares and more. Some information is included on the neighborhood-level indicator maps, while other measures are incorporated into the community profiles. 

To register for Thursday's free workshop, sign up here. For those who can't attend, though, HCDC has this demonstration video to help orient new users to the dashboard.