The California Health Data Project Meets the Press
One year ago, the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) launched its open data portal. Since then the California Health Data Project has been helping to advance both the public profile and the usability of the new site, and connect CHHS staff with those outside of government who want to access the newly available data. Through our ongoing series of brown bag events, we have begun to build a bridge to local communities with this health data.
Last week, we hosted our fourth brown bag, which focused on bringing the public information officers (PIOs) from CHHS and members of the press together. The discussion centered around the health data that the state publishes and how it can be better utilized by the media.
Reporters have already been accessing the open data portal for a number of different stories. The Fresno Bee used state health data as part of its investigative series to show the realities of health in the San Joaquin Valley. Earlier this year, the New York Times and Sacramento Bee created interactive maps of measles immunization rates for kindergarteners in California with the data. And the Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese, a portal regular, who joined us at the brown bag used state data in an investigative piece on California nursing homes and elder abuse.
During the event, some reporters spoke about how they weren’t comfortable using the portal, but still wanted to be able to access the state’s data. To solve this problem, we talked about creating a training course for reporters, so they could use the site more easily and effectively. We highlighted the City of San Francisco’s Data Academy that hosts classes to help people explore, refine, and enhance their skills in data analysis and visualization.
A similar academy for reporters on the state level could help members of the press easily navigate the site, and even create their own visualizations with the data to use when making a case to their editors about why a particular story merits coverage. Reporters at the event also mentioned it would be helpful for CHHS to send regular emails out, notifying members of the press when the portal has been updated at which new datasets have become available.
To close out the event, our Sacramento health data Ambassadors, Ash and Joel, presented an asthma visualization app that they developed with CHHS. This new resource was recognized by Government Technology as one of the 4 Key Takeaways from Code for America’s 2015 Summit. Joel also emphasized that he and his team have been following an agile method to create the new app. This collaborative kind of approach could be just as important as the end product.
The overall mission of the California Health Data Project is to build a bridge to local communities with California’s health data. And one of the most effective ways we can do that is through local and statewide media. That’s why it’s extremely important that reporters not only have access to the state’s health data, but can also easily navigate the portal and synthesize data in a way that their readers can understand.