Why Data Storytelling Holds the Key to Effective Public Policy As a data enthusiast, one of my favorite quotes comes from Edward Tufte, who famously r...
Four years ago, the team at mySidewalk faced a new challenge: how to make Community Health Assessments (CHAs) sing. We didn’t literally want them to sing (we do love karaoke, but maybe not in this situation), but we wanted them to be as interesting and engaging as our Community Health Improvement Plan stories were shaping up to be. We wanted a little sizzle, but without sacrificing the purpose of the CHA — to get better data in the hands of changemakers who needed it.
So, we did what we do best. We brainstormed and white-boarded, fueled by an endless supply of LaCroix. We had middle-of-the-night ideas that we forgot by the next morning and ideas that came to us in the shower that had us fumbling for our phones and nearly causing them water damage. What emerged was a solution that nested health outcomes in a broader context. Our CHA solution led with social determinants, told the story of disease as a story of inequities, and established a best practices approach to favoring data quality over quantity.
Turns out, we were on to something. Our CHA solution quickly became a flagship solution adopted by dozens of health departments across the country. We are immensely proud of it. But, times have changed. We’ve weathered a pandemic, a national awakening to racial injustices, and a better understanding of how macro-conditions like our rapidly changing climate will affect generations to come. Simultaneously, the public has consumed more health data than ever before, thanks to the innovations in COVID-19 reporting led by journalists, government officials, and academics. The average data consumer is savvier, and by the end of 2021, it was crystal clear that we had to do better. It was time for Extreme Makeover: CHA Edition.
Back to the (virtual) whiteboard we went. This time, we brought along friends. We now had tons of customers ready to pitch in and tell us what was working and what wasn’t. We had advisors in the industry willing to spend time with us and shed light on where Public Health was headed.
I won’t belabor all the little tweaks we made, but there are three big shifts that make our new CHA solution the G.O.A.T. In no particular order, here are my favorite things about CHA 2.0:
We’ve always been SDoH people. Our data library has 6 billion data points about the places we live, work, play and learn. We are evangelists for the power of our neighborhoods, and our data reflects that. The new CHA takes it even further, incorporating even more full information about things like Child Care Centers, WIC-authorized stores, Social Associations, Environmental Risk, and many more disaggregations by race and socioeconomic status. That last point is a kicker for me — equity should be at the center of everything we do. If mySidewalk’s small part to play in this is making it easier to pick up and communicate trends, we’re happy to be a part of the movement.
I think we are great writers. Really, I do. But there comes a point where you have to throw up your hands and say, “I need help.” The evolution of the way we think about Public Health was moving faster than our hands could type, and we needed a way to refresh the language, keep it inclusive, and keep it accessible to customers that work in different political environments.
Enter, Overflow, a KC-based company devoted to idea adoption and innovation. Through a random LinkedIn meet-cute and a tapas Happy Hour, I came to adore Tammy Broaddus, CEO. Aside from the fact that she is an adventurous eater, I immediately admired her character and commitment to her work. When we were debating whether to outsource copy writing for CHA 2.0, it was an easy decision to loop in Tammy and her team. They handled the challenge with grace and professionalism, and I’ve never been happier to admit that someone does something better than I do.
Fast food and fast fashion are popular for a reason — they let everyday people experience something yummy or cute quickly and cheaply. Our challenge? How can we be the McDonald's or Shein of the data story world without the negative consequences (you know, like heart disease or unfair labor practices)?
We only had to look internally to find the answer. We already had the world’s best automation practices in our Press Generator product! What if we could use the same “crankability” (my word, not official mySidewalk lingo) that allows the instant production of thousands of dashboards to reduce the time to launch for all of our CHA customers?
The idea was a success, and now our CHA launch times are half of what they were before, which translates not only to a faster story, but a more affordable one too. We know budgets have been strained like never before, but we also believe in the value of an interactive CHA that elevates stories of health equity. We believe every community, no matter the size of its budget, deserves access to powerful information.
We’d love to hear from you and show off more of CHA 2.0. We think it’s pretty cool, and we hope you’ll think so too. A CHA doesn’t have to be dry to be taken seriously; we know that stories can change the world, and that the right data in the right story makes world-changing that much more possible.
You can get in touch with us by clicking the button below and filling out a super quick form, or simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Sarah Martin is Vice President of Strategic Communications for mySidewalk and is responsible for developing new ways to help clients change the world. Sarah came to mySidewalk from the field of Public Health, most recently as Deputy Director for the KCMO Health Dept. Her work lives at the intersection of public policy and health outcomes, focusing on combining Public Health and Healthcare into a force to be reckoned with. Sarah received a Ph.D. and MPP in Public Policy and Economics from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. She also received an MPH in Epidemiology from Cal where she specialized in methods for Social Epidemiology and Epigenetics.
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