How integrated city data ensures the delivery of social services


Philadelphia’s new Office of Integrated Data for Evidence and Action (IDEA) integrates social services data across all city departments so officials can identify vulnerable populations and shape policies and programs to reduce poverty and promote equity.

The city had been working with data for two decades, but IDEA was created by one in March supreme command. “It started with case management and then evolved into using big data to identify vulnerable populations so we could coordinate services to those populations,” said director James Moore.

Also, a data analysis and conversion team is now on board for the first time, he said.

Kristen Coe, Director for Research, Analytics & Evaluation, is responsible for hiring staff to build analytics capacity and coordinate talent from other departments.

“If someone comes 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 went to our colleagues at Child Services and we spoke to them about the right way to query the data that they are contributing.” said Coe. “It’s about sitting down and looking at all the different data that’s available and thinking about it.”

In August, the IDEA office published the advancement plan, which aims to lift 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 assessment, community engagement, and coordinated access strategies to benefits.

“Strong and effective data collection and management, as well as the use of person-level data, can enable us to solve the challenges our Residents face in accessing the program[s] and services,” the plan says. “Expanding and improving the city’s data management and sharing will help us design better and more targeted programs and monitor implementation more closely.”

The plan outlines data governance initiatives such as B. Ensuring that collected data is appropriately disaggregated and that all contracted service delivery partners comply with data collection, sharing and acceptable use agreements. It also calls for the creation of a data equality framework and a cross-departmental public data dashboard, building internal systems for data management, contributing to a city-wide data dictionary, and taking stock of data collected by departments.

IDEA in action

An example of the IDEA office in action is how it used data on Philadelphia residents to enroll more families in the Child Tax Credit program after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law 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 lift themselves out of poverty. But not every family in need of benefits received them. The IRS estimated that as many as 14,000 children in Philadelphia had parents or guardians who had extremely low incomes and did not receive child tax payments, Kenney said.

“There’s a layer of people who are the poorest, who have the lowest incomes, who don’t file taxes that they wouldn’t automatically get,” Moore said, so the IDEA office focused its efforts on identifying those families and to contact.

The office used data from local social services that showed which households were participating in the state’s Medicaid program, homeless prevention services, or forester and family caregivers. Families in these programs fit the description of those receiving the child tax credit and would therefore likely qualify for the program, said Solomon Leach, communications manager for the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO).

To manage the data stored in an Oracle database, the agency uses a bespoke 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 with one already in IDEA’s system to make sure they belong to the same person, Leach said.

“It’s based on points. So, for example, if dates of birth match, a record is awarded a certain number of points for matching that attribute,” he added.

The next step is to translate the data into information that city officials can assess to move forward with the best plan of action, Moore said. IDEA makes information available to data users such as departments or research partners in various formats, such as client-level datasets and tabular data for aggregation or analysis, which can then be integrated into reports, summaries and presentations. When presenting geographic data, IDEA uses maps or dashboards created with Esri’s ArcPro and ArcOnline enterprise software.

Once names and contact information were available, the CEO and PhillyCounts outreach teams reached out to families via mail, phone calls and text messages advising them that they could apply for child tax credits and qualify for free tax prep.

IDEA’s future goals include “collaborating with public and private partners to explore new data sharing opportunities that improve data completeness and accuracy,” Leach said, which will help the office achieve its goal of serving local residents in the best possible way support.

IDEA is negotiating with the state for access to more data, such as income and entitlements information, Moore said. The office is also interested in working with hospital systems to collect emergency department data, but all discussions are still introductory.


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