The new Houston Community Data Connections dashboard aims to "democratize data for the public."

Following Hurricane Harvey, the Kinder Institute launched their Houston Community Data Connections (HCDC) dashboard with the goal to connect the public with various data tools in order to tell the character of Houston's neighborhoods and the challenges distinct areas face. On Thursday, the HCDC team ran a workshop for future and current users of the platform to learn the dashboard and see research reports from the institute that used the dashboard's tools. 

Within the platform, users are able to identify neighborhoods with various indicators — such as poverty levels, employment rate, school enrollment, etc. They are also able to see all of the indicators listed for a specific neighborhood in Houston and select surrounding areas. Furthermore, users are able to compare the indicators of two neighborhoods against each other as well as one neighborhood's indicators over time. 

Prior to the training, Cristina Cave, community relations senior manager at BakerRipley, spoke about how she is responsible for opening community centers throughout Houston — the most recent being in the Aldine area — and looks forward to using the dashboard to identify neighborhoods where there is a need for their services, specifically their free tax return program. She told the Chronicle that in 2017 alone, BakerRipley saved taxpayers approximately $7.5 million in fees through their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which the BakerRipley East Aldine Campus houses as well as their other campuses.

"We are fortunate at BakerRipley to have our own data team, but at a smaller nonprofit or firm, sometimes they don't have that resource and this platform could offer as a substitute," said Will Landon, assistant director of research and evaluation at BakerRipley. 

Pamela Hernandez followed that sentiment saying, "For me, I'm an independent data researcher, so using a tool like this is so fortunate because I'm able to pull data for several organizations I work with both in and out of state. It's especially useful for those out-of-state organizations that want to break in."

The training on Thursday showed attendees how to use the tool, but with the extra eyes on the platform, new requests of its capability followed. 

Hernandez noted that she wished the data went back further than 2010, and Darlene Breaux of the Harris County Department of Education noted that it seemed like the platform worked differently on her ThinkPad laptop than Hernandez's MacBook Pro. The HCDC team took these suggestions — among others — into account for any future development of the platform. 

Mingming Zhang, one of the lead developers of the HCDC website, notes that the reason why the data doesn't go back further is that the datasets aren't comparable and recorded in the same way as the more current datasets she's pulling from. 

Regardless of the notes of improvement, users during the training on Thursday were excited to start using the tool. 

"It provides you visuals, and people are more responsive to that," Hernandez said after receiving an overview training on how to use the dashboard. "When you look at a neighborhood that is 54% Hispanic and people say, 'Oh, well, what does that mean?' They'll see it compared to another neighborhood with color coding on an entire map of Houston. That's useful."

For a brief overview of the platform, watch the video below. To start using the platform yourself, click here. If you are interested in getting training on the dashboard yourself, click here and scroll to the bottom for more information. 

Credit: Houston Community Data Connections

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