Philadelphia’s Office of Integrated Data for Evidence and Action has been analyzing cross-program data to improve outreach to residents who qualify for assistance but have not applied.
Philadelphia’s new Office of Integrated Data for Evidence and Action (IDEA) integrates social services data across city departments so officials can identify vulnerable populations and shape policies and programs meant to reduce poverty and boost equity.
The city had been working with integrated data for two decades, but IDEA was created in March through an executive order. “It started with case management and then blossomed into using large batches of data to identify vulnerable populations so that we could coordinate services for those populations,” Director James Moore said.
Plus, now is the first time a data analytics team is on board, he said.
Kristen Coe, director for research, analytics & evaluation, is in charge of bringing in staff to build analytic capacity and coordinate talent from other departments.
“If somebody in [Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services], which is our mental health department, wanted to do a query, but they had a question about child welfare involvement, we would go to our colleagues in the child welfare department, and we would talk with them about the right way to query the data that they contribute,” Coe said. “It’s about sitting and being able to see all of the different data that are available and to think about.”
In August, the city of Philadelphia released the Upward Mobility Plan, which aims to raise the city’s poorest residents out of poverty by identifying them and assessing their needs through data integration. The plan highlights four components to achieving equity: data management, performance evaluation, community engagement and coordinated benefits access strategies.
“Strong and effective data collection and management, and use of person-level data can allow us to solve the challenges that our residents face in accessing program[s] and services,” the plan said. “Expanding and improving the City’s data management operations and sharing will help us to design better and more targeted programming and to monitor implementation more closely.”
The plan outlines data management initiatives such as ensuring the collected data is appropriately disaggregated and that any contracted service delivery partners are complying with data collection, sharing and acceptable use agreements. It also calls for creating a data equity framework and a multidepartmental public data dashboard, building internal systems for data management, contributing to a citywide data dictionary and taking inventory on the data gathered by departments.
IDEA in action
One example of the IDEA office in action is how it used data on Philadelphia residents to get more families enrolled in the Child Tax Credit program following President Joe Biden’s signing of the American Rescue Plan Act last year.
In an April article, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney wrote that with the expanded tax benefits in ARPA, 75,000 Philadelphians, including 46,000 children, could escape poverty. But not every family that needed benefits was receiving them. The IRS estimated as many as 14,000 children in Philadelphia had parents or guardians that were extremely low-income and were not receiving Child Tax payments, Kenney said.
“There's a layer of people who are the poorest, the lowest income who don't file taxes, who weren't going to get it automatically,” Moore said, so the IDEA office focused its efforts on identifying and contacting those families.
The office used local social service data that revealed which households participated in the state’s Medicaid program, homelessness prevention services or foster and kin care. Families in those programs fit the description of those getting the child tax care credit, and so would likely qualify for the program, said Solomon Leach, communications manager of the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO).
To manage the data, which is stored in an Oracle database, the office uses a custom-built ETL process that copies part of the source agency’s data and sends it to the IDEA system. Then an algorithm matches the new record to one that already exists in IDEA’s system to ensure that they belong to the same person, Leach said.
“It’s based on point values, so if dates of birth match, for example, a record is awarded a certain number of points for matching on that attribute,” he added.
The next step is translating the data into information that city officials can assess to move forward with the best plan of action, Moore said. IDEA provides data users, such as departments or research partners, information in various formats, such as client-level datasets as well as tabular data for aggregation or analyses that can then be incorporated into reports, summaries and presentations. When presenting geographic data, IDEA uses maps or dashboards built with Esri’s ArcPro and ArcOnline enterprise software.
Once the names and contact information were available, outreach teams from CEO and PhillyCounts reached out to the families via mail, phone calls and text messages to alert them that they could claim child tax credit payments and qualify for free tax preparation.
IDEA’s future goals include “working with public and private partners to explore new data sharing opportunities that improve the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the data,” Leach said, which will help the office meet its objective of serving local residents in the best way.
The city is exploring how the state and other holders of administrative data could support their data sharing work, Moore said, but all discussions are still introductory.
Editor's note: This story was changed Sept. 16 to clarify the relationship between the IDEA office and the city.