Jennifer Hebert-Beirne uses Community Commons to prepare her graduate students for on-the-ground work in improving health at the neighborhood level. As assistant professor of Community Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, she knows that promoting health equity is a social justice imperative and that data is a key to evidence-informed approaches.
“We are teaching students how to use census tract data to think hyperlocal. Community Commons gives them an intra-neighborhood lens,”–Jennifer Hebert-Beirne, PhD, MPH
A recent focus of study for Hebert-Beirne’s students was the Little Village neighborhood in Chicago. This predominantly Latino population has many health challenges, but a strong history of community involvement.
Hebert-Beirne and her students used Commons maps and data to dig into factors that affect individual health. “Community Commons makes it easy for us. We don’t have to teach the students how to create the maps, we can go straight to using the data.”
Click on the map to see details and to zoom to your own community.
Using a Community Lens
A key factor in improving health outcomes is community involvement. Data can be easier for residents to relate to when it is in a visual format. “As part of our community-based research with funding from organizations like the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, we bring the maps with us to community meetings and community health chats or Platicas. The advantage of Community Commons is that it helps us translate data and take that into the communities. We can ask then ask the community members how they interpret the meaning of the data.”
Demetria Cain, a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant for Hebert-Beirne, agrees and states that, “sometimes, when we interpret data with community members, the meaning of numeric data can get lost in charts and tables. Mapping tools like this allows community members to view data in a visual format they are more familiar with. This is especially apparent when negotiating differences between census tract level boundaries compared to naturally occurring neighborhood boundaries.”
Hebert-Beirne said members living in the community see the value of the maps as well. “We were getting ready to implement a new survey and a community member suggested using a map to make sure we got geographic diversity of participants.”
She said they often see the maps they have created used within the communities as well. “Students create maps, we share them with our community partners and then we see those maps used, maybe on a flier or in a presentation. It makes us very happy to see our work have meaning beyond the classroom.”
Students also apply their learning beyond Little Village in order to reach all seventy-seven Chicago community areas. A student created these maps on Community Commons of the Washington Square neighborhood. The individual maps, laid side-by-side, show that census tracts with a high rate of uninsured full-time workers are also areas with a high rate of single-female family households. They also show that individual census tracts located right next to each other can have very different rates.
“The maps help us see the impact of gentrification in Chicago communities,” said Hebert-Beirne. “In many neighborhoods, socioeconomic data is strikingly different on the north side of a street compared to the south side of a street.” This data can be applied to the development of strategic community actions to improve health equity for all families.
Click on either map to see details and to zoom to your own community.
In today’s data centric world, there is value in teaching future public health change-makers how to engage communities and collaborate to design interventions. “For the students, maps help them see the impact on community health. We can talk about it or we can read about it, but they can really see it on a census tract data map,” said Hebert-Beirne.
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