Community Information Now (CI:Now), a local nonprofit that develops data resources for the South Texas region, released a data visualization tool that puts hard numbers on some of San Antonio’s prevailing economic and health challenges including birth control, diabetes, and poverty.

CI:Now’s Viz-a-lyzer, released last month, allows users to explore Bexar County data across several key indicators at varying geographic levels over time. The tool reflects the broader mission of CI:Now, which is to improve the public’s ability to use and access data, an issue that has proven to be a common roadblock to data literacy in San Antonio.

Mapping the data sets available in the Viz-a-lyzer highlights the geographic nature of San Antonio’s health and economic issues. An examination of teen birth rate data, for example, reveals that pregnancy rates per 1,000 females age 15-19 has been on the steady incline since 2010, hovering above 60% for several central and Southside zip codes.

The geography of zip codes with 15-30% of the population falling below the federal poverty line continues to cluster on the Southside, showing minimal change since 2011. The tool also reveals that life expectancy is greatest on the Northside and in Adkins (78101).

The diabetes hospitalization rate per 10,000 people continues to rise throughout the city, and is geographically concentrated in central San Antonio and the Southside. A screen shot of the tool’s interface below shows just how stark the ‘diabetes divide’ was in 2015, where darker census tracts record higher rates of hospitalization for diabetes patients.

Screenshot of Community Information Now’s Viz-A-Lyzer data tool. Credit: Community Information Now / Community Information Now

The Viz-a-lyzer relies on a compilation of public data sources at national, state, and local levels, including the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas Department of State Health Services, and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. Additional data sets are expected to be added on a quarterly basis. The next update is scheduled to coincide with the release of the latest U.S. Census 2016 American Community Survey data in December.

Laura McKieran, executive director of CI:Now, and Norma Garza, Viz-a-lyzer’s developer, hope the tool will appeal to the general public.

“The primary audience is people who either don’t have the skills or the bandwidth to do sophisticated data work,” McKieran explained. SA2020 and the NonProfit Council helped CI:Now conduct user testing of the tool to ensure its utility.

“Since its launch we have shared the site with over 30 partners, and each person has been impressed with the level of ease,” said Liz Lutz, executive director of the Health Collaborative, a network of businesses and community organizations focused on health outcomes in Bexar County. “The Viz-a-lyzer is … user-friendly, timely, and a reliable trusted source.”

Data literacy continues to be a challenge for San Antonio residents, as almost 50% report a high school diploma as their highest level of education. The city ranked 58 out of 100 U.S. cities in terms of the percentage of the population with access to usable (25 mbps or greater) internet, according to a 2017 study by the Brookings Institution.

Emerging organizations such as the Alamo Regional Data Alliance (ARDA), which McKieran co-founded, are seeking to bridge gaps in data literacy, access, and education. ARDA bills itself as “a vibrant network of data professionals, leaders, and change-makers” that seek to improve the quality and accessibility of San Antonio’s data, according to its mission statement.

ARDA held its first steering committee elections in October and recently ended its public membership drive. The professional diversity of the recently elected steering committee illustrates how data impacts a variety of sectors ranging from education to housing. Representatives include José De La Cruz from the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation, Omar Arizpe of Southwest ISD, Leilah Powell from the Local Initiatives Support Coalition, and Richard Milk of the San Antonio Housing Authority. Meetings will be open to the public, with a schedule of upcoming events soon to be available on the organization’s website.

McKieran hopes that the Viz-a-lyzer will help public awareness evolve in tandem with San Antonio’s growing big data ecosystem.

“Putting trustworthy, very recent data out there for indicators that we know matter,” McKieran said, “and getting everyone a basic level of data access is critical so that non-research users can use data to inform decisions.”

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Emily Royall

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.