This article was adapted from an October 26, 2015, post in Medium.
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 the public profile and usability of the new site, and to 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 are building a bridge to local communities with this health data.
Last week, we hosted our fourth lunch, which focused on bringing together members of the press with the public information officers (PIOs) from CHHS. The discussion centered around the health data that the state publishes and how it can be better utilized by the media.
Photo at right: Andy Krackov of the California Health Care Foundation and Michael Valle of the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development at the recent lunch
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 harsh toll taken by chronic diseases in the San Joaquin Valley. Earlier this year, the New York Times and Sacramento Bee used the data to create interactive maps of measles immunization rates for kindergarteners in California. And the Sacramento Bee‘s Phillip Reese, a regular user of the open data portal who joined us at the brown bag, used state data in an investigative piece on California nursing homes and elder abuse.
During the lunch, some reporters spoke about how they weren’t comfortable using the portal but still want 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, which hosts classes to help people explore, refine, and enhance their skills in data analysis and visualization.
A similar academy for California reporters could help members of the press easily navigate the open data portal and even create their own visualizations to use when pitching story ideas to their editors. Reporters at the event also mentioned that it would be helpful for CHHS to send regular email notices to journalists when the portal has been updated with new data sets.
Our Sacramento health data ambassadors, Ash Roughani and Joel Riphagen, presented an asthma visualization app that they developed using CHHS datasets. This new resource was recognized recently 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 the so-called agile method to create the app. This collaborative approach could be just as important as the end product.
Asthma Visualization Application
The mission of our 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 have access to the state’s health data and can easily navigate the portal and synthesize data in a way that their readers can understand.
Max Wertheimer is a communications strategist based in San Francisco. He provides communications support and media consulting to startups, technology companies, political campaigns, and advocacy organizations, including the California Health Data Project.