Viewing entries tagged
systemic approaches

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fun with a purpose

Ladies and gentlemen: this is how you use data for development purposes.

DCAC's Data Tools 2.0.

DCAC's Data Tools 2.0.

This is a map from DC Action for Children, a nonprofit that advocates for better city policies for children and families. They recently launched a revamped version of their data tool, DC KIDS COUNT, which is part of a national program funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

A few years ago, I had a boss who was fond of saying, "Maps are great, but then what?" The point he was making - and I think it's a good one - was that with all of the new data visualization and crowdsourcing technology that's arisen over the last decade, it's easy to get caught up in making really neat-looking infographics that nonetheless fail to serve any strategic purpose. And if these maps stood alone, that description would probably apply to them; yes, a map that shows how sharply student reading levels decline as you move across the city is arresting, and depressing, but it doesn't offer a clear call to action.

What I love about DCAC's tool, though, is that it was designed for a reason and for a specific audience. Its maps provide nonprofits with hard data they can use in lobbying local officials, particularly ANCs (Advisory Neighborhood Committees - a local body of government in DC) and city council members. They also provide a clear visual reference for DCAC itself to use in making their case to local politicians for more child-friendly policies on issues like school funding. And - should these politicians choose to back a given initiative or policy - they now have accessible, engaging data to which they can refer when trying to get their peers on board.

If you're interested in data tools or issues of child poverty and development at all, I encourage you to go check out what DCAC is doing - their data is open-source and available to all, so if you want to play with it and see what you can learn about kids in this city, go for it. (Their incredibly dynamic founder, HyeSook Chung, is also posting some neat information on their blog that explains a little bit about their methodology and the choices they made in developing this.)

 

(Full disclosure: I participated in a volunteer consulting project last summer that worked with DCAC to advise on potential changes to the old DC Kids Count tool. However, I was not involved at all in the creation of the final product - I was part of one team out of several, and my work ended in August, before the changes began.)

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necessary but not sufficient

Daily Intel has a piece today on how NYPD officers are (theoretically) going to start carrying naloxone, the heroin anti-overdose medication, in an effort to stem the rising tide of opiate-related deaths in that city. Predictably, naloxone is a controversial treatment, particularly in this context; the rationale against it seems to be that if heroin users *know* that they can just overdose whenever they want and not die, they'll have no incentive to stop using. In that sense, it's reminiscent of the Bush-era PEPFAR campaigns that emphasized abstinence over condom usage, with the logic being that if people know how AIDS is passed on but you don't give them protection, then they just won't have the unprotected sex. Harm prevention vs. harm reduction.

Unsurprisingly, those AIDS programs didn't really work, and forsaking naloxone probably won't either. Now, I love behavior change and its related communications - there's a reason I've focused so much of my academic and professional career in that area - but, unfortunately, difficult problems generally require systemic, multi-pronged solutions. And while we should be working on the structural issues and individual choices that lead to problems as aggressively miserable as heroin addiction, in the meantime we have some people who are dying on our hands.

This is a domestic issue, of course, but the treatment of harm reduction vs. harm prevention as a binary instead of as a compliment has substantial relevance for the development world as well. No one is going to argue that an educational radio program is an adequate substitute for a well-run and well-resourced school, but building institutions takes time, and there are kids who need an education in the world we live in now. Not to state the obvious or anything, but the trick is figuring out how to balance the two approaches - not making ourselves choose only one.

 

(Another example of the need for a systemic approach to social change: this Onion article. I know, two in one day. With me, this is what you get.)

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