There’s power in numbers. That was the consensus in the workshops I visited this Friday at the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission’s Data Day in Boston.
The name “Data Day” may not conjure up visions of dramatic reversals of public policy. But the community advocates and data experts at the conference knew otherwise. Here are two stories they told about how data can change how we judge people and situations – both socially and legally.
- Assistant Professor Gia Barboza of Northeastern University did a pilot study demonstrating that employing young people could reverse trends toward illegal and violent behavior. Lack of job opportunities correlates with depression and aggression. “This job kept me off the street,” said one of her interviewees. Barboza told news@Northeastern that “when you think about the long-term costs associated with incarceration, it’s much more efficient to fund organizations that employ these youth and provide them with skills that help them achieve their long-term goals.” This conclusion could apply to green jobs programs.
- Derrick Jackson, a columnist at the Boston Globe, said that data can bring “sanity” to public policy about justice and the environment. For example, he said, data helped to eliminate a double standard in sentencing urban and suburban young people who used cocaine. He said environmentalists should tell stories about climate change using data and use these stories to drive policy changes.
There are many ways environmental organizations can use data to change conversations. The Knight Foundation funded a data-sharing project which bridged divides between environmental justice groups. Projects like this one can yield local stories for both traditional and social media. What chemicals are in your neighborhood’s backyard?
Although the EPA’s approach to reporting potential flooding may seem dry, reports on climate change indicators in the United States can also provide story ideas for journalists. If climate change produces floods or disrupts the growing season, superimposing those maps on maps of crop production could yield interesting results – especially for crops grown in low-lying areas. In some states, the answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” may be very different in a few years from what it is today.