I spend a lot of time on this blog highlighting the importance of (and issues with) refugee and migrant data. Collecting data in conflict or disaster zones is important work. We can do a lot to support populations fleeing to different countries with data. But what about data for citizens not in crisis? How reliable is our day-to-day data infrastructure?
Developed countries tend to have better data infrastructure in place than those in the developing world. But that doesn’t mean our collection or analysis are without problems. Recent studies by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families found that US data is not keeping pace with demographic shifts as America’s Hispanic population grows and spreads.
Does that really matter?
Short answer: yes. It really does. Hispanics in the US aren’t dependent on humanitarian aid or struggling to integrate into unfamiliar new communities. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need our data infrastructure to support their needs.
Data Must Paint an Accurate Picture
Collecting data on the population of any city, state, region, or country isn’t just about emergency assistance. We develop data infrastructure to gain a better understanding of a population — to know what they need, how much they need, and if those needs are being met. This insight is crucial for policymakers and social programs. If our data fails to accurately reflect the experience of our population, how can our leaders ensure our needs are met?
“The Hispanic population has not only grown rapidly over the past few decades, but has diversified in terms of nativity, country of origin, citizenship status, and geographic location within the United States.”
Researchers with the NRCHCF examined a number of national datasets and found that nearly all lacked relevant information on family life and diversity among Hispanics. They observed that data collected did not provide insight into:
- Relationship dynamics among Hispanic couples
- Parenting — specifically fathering — in Latino families
- Diversity within Hispanic households and communities
Why is Data Infrastructure Important?
Simply knowing who lives where only provides a surface view of a population. Without more detailed data on family relationships and diversity, it’s very difficult to know what kind of social programming or supports are most appropriate. And if social sector organizations can’t accurately assess the needs of a community, there is no way for policymakers to make informed decisions on budgets for social programs.
To illustrate the shortfalls in national data infrastructure, the NRCHCF team developed an interactive tool that lists specific topics on which data facilitate better community supports, and lets the user explore which national datasets include data on those topics.
The National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families is calling for upgrades to our data infrastructure. They support the idea of a new national panel of US households that better reflects the demographics of today.
What Does This All Mean to You?
I can’t overstate the importance of maintaining the quality of our data infrastructure. If you’re in government, accurate data is critical to your decision-making. If you work in the social sector, you’ll work most effectively when you have a deep understanding of the community you’re working with.
And what if you’re just a person who happens to be reading this blog because they like data? Data infrastructure matters to you too. This blog post focused on the ways US data is failing Hispanics, but the problem is not confined to any one race or ethnic group. Supporting good data infrastructure ensures you (and all your neighbours) will always be counted.
Are you struggling with poor data infrastructure? Are you working on a project where high-quality data is difficult to access? The team at Datassist is here to help. Drop us a line today.