Overcome Your Data Disposophobia

Are you suffering from Data Disposophobia?

Disposophobia is the mental condition that leads people to hold on to things that aren’t needed and compulsively collect more things. It is a fear of letting go, attaching emotional energy to inanimate objects. This condition has been sensationalized in the show Hoarders. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, as we have struggled alongside departments across the country with the best way to communicate health data and get it in the hands of people who need it.

(Stick with me this is going somewhere)

Although mySidewalk has a long history of turning data into intelligence, it was not until mid-2018 that the first Public Health solution was developed. We started with the Kansas City, Missouri Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which like most CHIP’s is highly story-driven and relies on a strong, principled narrative to move the audience to action. We consider the CHIP story to be a journey for a purpose--we always start the customer experience by asking our partners what they hope to accomplish with their CHIP, and our approach has created some very beautiful, personalized stories that are punctuated with data.

But then, we took on a new challenge with our first Community Health Assessment dashboard. CHA’s are notoriously tricky things--cumbersome and dense. Imagine pages and pages of data tables and graphs, some of which haven’t seen the light of day for months as they are rarely requested by the community. CHA’s also serve a very important purpose: to get data to the public for their own use. This means that whatever dashboard we co-create with our partners has to not only include the most commonly needed data, it has to help the end user get to that data quickly.

One of the obstacles we soon faced was the commonly accepted way that most CHA’s were organized. The majority of CHA’s we transformed from static reports to interactive dashboards were set up in a way that separated health determinants from health outcomes. For instance, you might have a chapter on social determinants, followed by a chapter on health behaviors, then followed by multiple chapters on health outcomes. This structure fails to connect social and economic environments to behavior and outcomes.

At mySidewalk, we believe every dashboard—no matter how data heavy—has a story to tell.

CHA’s are not generally seen as “storytelling” documents. At mySidewalk, we believe every dashboard--no matter how data heavy--has a story to tell. And the template we have developed for our partner’s CHA’s now allows us to nest Health Outcome data in a larger environmental context and also shows how health behaviors are a function of those environments. For example, a dashboard page on Chronic Disease might show indicators on Fast Food Restaurant density → Eating habits of children and adults → Diabetes rates. This novel approach has a dual purpose: it curates the available data in a way that makes it easier to find, and advances the understanding of how risk factors at all levels are connected to outcomes!

Which brings me back to Hoarding. When I was Deputy Director of the KCMO Health Department, our CHA had roughly 300 pages of data and 125 indicators. This is quite typical for our partner organizations as well. Letting go of the indicators we don’t need is hard, and I am so impressed with our customers' willingness to jump in and try a new way of shedding the unneeded weight of extra data in their CHA. As a company, we have invested a lot of energy into developing a platform that makes it easier to overcome data Disposophobia--by storing all their data in a personal data library and having access to it when needed for customized reports, our partners get the best of both worlds. They get to tell streamlined, compelling data stories in their CHA dashboard, and they don’t have to completely walk away from their beloved data. They can rest easy and be proud of a CHA developed with their audience’s needs in mind.

-Dr. Sarah Martin, Director of Public Health at mySidewalk