Using Data To Close the Opportunity Gap for Boys and Young Men of Color

When President Barack Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper in 2014, it galvanized organizations working to address the opportunity gap facing boys, young men of color, and all young people. Not only did not-for-profits heed the call, but some 250 communities including cities, rural municipalities, and tribal nations, committed to their own initiatives to assist all young people in reaching their full potential.

But through convenings at the White House and other venues, advocates became increasingly aware of a frustrating problem affecting their efforts: Mayors, not-for-profits, and other civic leaders frequently resorted to data that was two and three years old if it existed at all – the more common circumstance was that the data was not available. Key indicators would be either be hard to locate or very dated, and rarely was the information disaggregated so you could see the experience of young black and Latino men compared to the white and Asian peers. Information on Native Americans even less frequently reported. Nothing better was easily available. “You can’t make good decisions for your needs today based on information that is that old,” says Linda Gibbs, a principal at Bloomberg Associates, a non-profit consulting firm working with mayors internationally. “And you can’t tell if what you’re doing is making an impact.”

With the right partners, Gibbs and others began to think, technology could solve this problem. The result is the Equity Intelligence Platform, or EIP, developed by Bloomberg Associates, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, PolicyLink, and the city of Oakland.

The EIP is designed to help mayors, community leaders, and advocates make better use of data relating to disparities suffered by boys and young men of color. The platform will allow the integration of baseline and population data with data related to specific initiatives, adding clarity to crucial questions about which policies and programs are working, how well they’re working, and how and where they might be failing. “The driving goal behind the Equity Intelligence Platform is to make it easier for mayors, communities, and citizens to get access to information that is sitting in agencies, and make it easier to get that information to the public,” says Gibbs.

The problem has never been a lack of data, says Jose Corona, the director of equity and strategic partnerships for the city of Oakland. But the data hasn’t necessarily been collected with intention. There hasn’t been enough focus on whether the right data is being collected, whether it’s relevant, and whether it’s attached to meaningful outcomes. “We can collect data all day long,” notes Corona. “We haven’t seen the needle move on these outcomes.” His region has intentionally embarked on a collective impact approach, he says, in which the school district, the city of Oakland, the county, the community college system, and others collaborate. But, he says, “It’s not coordinated and it’s not synced up, and it’s not attached to outcomes,” – all issues the EIP partners are determined to solve.

At its launch, the EIP aims to make data available on 40 indicators from the justice, education, and employment systems. For the system to be successful, it needs to be easy to use – not just for data specialists, but for community members as well. “We want to make the data come alive,” says Gibbs. “When you open the site it should be so intuitive. You should be able to ask, how many kids in my child’s school had some involvement with the police? How many of the kids who didn’t graduate were homeless?”

Marc Philpart, senior director of PolicyLink, is looking to EIP to facilitate more productive conversations with elected officials and those who manage the institutions trying to serve young men and boys of color. “Real time information should help us have productive conversations about programming and institutional effectiveness in a way that creates better accountability and pushes people to innovate,” he says. He also hopes that the EIP will help enable the tough conversations about which systems and practices are producing poor results, so they can be improved, transformed, or scrapped.

Gibbs and others also see the EIP as a tool to help change the mindset of those who collect data about different populations. “The culture and philosophy of public agencies is that they believe they are the owners of the data, and it’s up to them if they want to share,” says Gibbs. “We have to turn that upside-down. You have an obligation to share data unless there is a reason it should be protected. Because embedded in that data are facts that can improve outcomes. If you are sitting on the answers of how to improve these outcomes, you are violating your ethical obligations.”

Coming up on Sunday, September 24th, Bloomberg is hosting the 2017 Data for Good Exchange where experts will be discussing projects such as EIP, where data science and human capital are being used to solve problems at the core of society.