Empower Local Elected Officials With Data

A good elected official personifies their district. They know the stories of the place and can use them to effectively care for and improve their community. Traditionally this means the elected official spends significant time absorbing the preferences of their constituents through one-on-one conversations.

While this will always be a crucial political tactic, we live in a time when those qualitative efforts can be augmented with quantitative data. Clearly at the federal level campaigns have embraced data as a political tool, but shouldn’t data be more a tool for governing than getting elected?

Wouldn’t it be better to empower elected officials at the local level with the tools they need to truly represent their constituents?

The Challenge

The problem is, the way most demographic data is collected and compiled doesn’t line up with local jurisdictional boundaries. A census tract or block group, for example, doesn’t adhere to a city council district or a school district, so it can be challenging, even impossible, for elected officials in these districts to parse out the data to better understand their constituents.

Fortunately, with a little data science there are ways around this problem. Using weighted block point apportionment (which roughly translates to “grabbing data from one area and applying it to another”), you can force underlying demographics into any shape you can come up with, like neighborhoods, project boundaries, or city council districts.

As a company, we are focused on providing simple answers to complex questions.

We want to put data in the hands of people who can actually use it.

So the question “Can you give me data about my constituents?” is a perfect request for us to take on. We can (and have!) built a platform that can provide data specific to every city council district in the country.

Our Solution

Let’s build an example for our home town of Kansas City, where an elected official’s question might be…

Who lives in my district?

Knowing who lives in your district is always important. A quick snapshot of the data can help you understand your constituents better and can help you make decisions moving forward. For example, in Kansas City, MO, there is an incredibly high millennial population in district 4. This data might change the way an elected official prioritizes their agenda or how they engage with their constituents.

Data Visualized in mySidewalk   , data from US Census 2013–2017 ACS

Data Visualized in mySidewalk, data from US Census 2013–2017 ACS


How strong is the economy in my district?

The economy is often a driver of policy and political priority. Understanding the economy of your city is great, but understanding the economy of your district can help drive localized policy that helps those in areas that are struggling the most. Data indicators like the labor market engagement index shows more need for workforce development initiatives in Districts 3 and 5.

Data Visualized in mySidewalk ; The LMEI is calculated using a formula provided by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is based on the level of employment, labor force participation, and educational attainment (percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher) in a geography.

Data Visualized in mySidewalk; The LMEI is calculated using a formula provided by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is based on the level of employment, labor force participation, and educational attainment (percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher) in a geography.

What is the education profile of my district?

Although not directly correlated across all demographic groups, higher levels of educational attainment tend to be associated with higher wage employment. Knowing the educational attainment of your district can help prioritize what types of education or job training initiatives would benefit your constituents.

How do my constituents get to work?

Understanding how your constituents get to work can help prioritize public works projects in your district. In the fourth district, a much larger number of residents walk to work than in other districts. To encourage this further you could support new streetscaping initiatives or when a road needs to be redone you could advocate for a complete street that provides space for all types of transportation to safely share a road. In district 3 where there are more people using transit to get to work you could encourage and prioritize better access to transit through the development of more bus rapid transit for your constituents.

Data Visualized in mySidewalk ; This map includes the employment access index which is a distance (accessibility) weighted representation of how many jobs are available to each household within an area.

Data Visualized in mySidewalk; This map includes the employment access index which is a distance (accessibility) weighted representation of how many jobs are available to each household within an area.

Bottom line, the data can and should inform policy in a way that conversations simply can’t.

Making informed governing decisions based on the actual data, the demonstrated need, or the greatest opportunity is now a real possibility. The blending of empathetic understanding of the people in a place with a knowledge about the underlying demographics has the potential to change the way local politics works in the years ahead.

At mySidewalk, we can answer these questions and more easily —with our platform, you can develop a whole report about your own district including all the stats you need for an accurate district profile. See the full, interactive, mySidewalk report used in this article here.