Free the Data

Unlocking the Potential of Health Data in California

CHCF's Free the Data initiative seeks to develop new tools to access, analyze, and communicate health data in California.

February 2015

Through its Free the Data initiative, CHCF seeks to unlock the potential of government health data by catalyzing development of tools to better access, analyze, and communicate information. Audiences include journalists, entrepreneurs and developers, consumers, and state and local policymakers.

Examples of projects under this initiative include:

  • California's Open Data Portal: CHCF funded the California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Agency to develop a portal that improves access to the state's health data and provides tools to visualize and download datasets. The first sets of data, launched in August 2014, included local-level data from the California Department of Public Health — birth profiles, baby names, poverty rates, West Nile virus prevalence, ED asthma hospitalizations, and locations of health care facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. The CHHS Open Data Portal now offers data from other departments and enables improved access so that researchers, policymakers, technology experts, and others can, for example, use the data to create mobile applications (apps) to solve local challenges.

  • Health data for local policymaking: County supervisors and staff face related challenges — how to find relevant data among the numerous available sources and to summarize findings in succinct, visual ways to inform policy and budget decisions.

    Working extensively with potential users, CHCF commissioned the design and innovation firm Gravitytank to create a prototype tool that provides local policymakers with access to sophisticated displays of health data relevant to them and a system for integrating these data into summary briefs on key topics. For more on this project, read about Harnessing Health Data for Counties. CHCF is working with a number of California counties to pilot this data tool.
  • Open data case studies: It worked with weather and global positioning system data, so why not health? This series from CHCF examines four open health data initiatives from across the country and the affects they are having on people's health and well-being. Topics include efforts to prevent foodborne illness in Chicago, to improve pedestrian safety in San Francisco, to reduce childhood obesity in New York, and to publicly report hospital-acquired infections.
  • Developers and users: Given the goal of open data to encourage those outside of government to create useful innovations from health data, CHCF also supports Code for America and other organizations that help government, journalists, consumers, nonprofits, and providers effectively leverage these data.
  • Solutions Journalism Network: CHCF is funding a project to train news outlets in California and elsewhere on a journalism technique that employs data to highlight community solutions to health problems. Read more about the Knight News Challenge.
  • Events and convenings: CHCF is a proud sponsor of many open data–related events, including the national Health Datapalooza and the Healthy Communities Data Summit, which showcases work taking place across California to integrate data into health care decisionmaking.