Automated Census Data Intake Saves Time for Prince George’s County

March 20, 2018 6:29 am PST | Data as a Service

Prince George’s County, Maryland, has been on the leading edge of bringing data to local issues, especially since County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III launched the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) in 2012. The program’s goal was to uplift communities struggling with violent crime and economic instability. As part of this effort, the Prince George’s County team has improved their efficiency with data collection and analysis in many ways, including automatically piping census data into Socrata for TNI reporting.


The Manual Census Data Import

Soon after TNI began, County Executive Baker asked Prince George’s County’s CountyStat team of data analysts to identify key performance indicators that could track progress towards improving the quality of life in TNI communities. As the process evolved, CountyStat mapped the TNI areas in GIS by aligning them with U.S. Census Tracts to allow for uniform data analysis from federal, state, and local sources.

The current key indicators in each tract included the following:

  1. Crime Incidents (Violent and Property)
  2. Pre-1980 Houses*
  3. Median Income*
  4. Domestic Violence Cases
  5. Unemployment with no High School Diploma*
  6. Vacant Houses
  7. Trash Requests
  8. Foreclosures
  9. Code Violation Requests
  10. 9th Grade Retention Rate
  11. Absentee Rate
  12. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Recipients*
  13. Permits Issued
  14. Kindergarten Readiness

*datasets that are automated via the Census API

According to CountyStat Manager Ben Birge the original process of updating these indicators required multiple steps for a CountyStat analyst, including:

  • receive training in the mapping and analytics software ESRI
  • pull data from the U.S. Census when it updated its site annually
  • bring the data into GIS, code it, and then align it with the TNI areas
  • export to Excel
  • manually update charts then put them, manually, into PowerPoint
  • convert the charts into a PDF to be posted to a public website

If it was county data, such as crime or litter complaints, the process was similar, says Birge.

Some local datasets are collected by agencies and CountyStat did not have control over the availability so in many cases, collecting the data would take up to a week. Once the data was received, and GIS coded, analyzed, and performed the visualization work, extreme time lapsed before findings could be presented to senior leadership. As a last step, a CountyStat team member converted the data visualization to a PDF for transmission to the community and posting on a website.


More Efficient Data Piping with Socrata 

As a result of the county’s partnership with Socrata, all the census data needed to track TNI program progress is now updated automatically. And, the Excel and PowerPoint visualizations have been replaced, and largely automated, using Socrata Open Performance. Socrata also worked with Prince George’s County to collect some operational data, such as Litter Complaints, to come into the open data platform coded by TNI area, saving analysts significant time.

Birge explains another instance, in particular, where the Census Tract data made his team’s job much easier. “In 2015, the Health Department had additional funding from a grant designated to improve access to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. By using block-level data from the Census, the Health Department targeted areas in a particular TNI that was most likely to have a high uninsured population.”


“Every little data metric is critical to the daily operations. We put in structures to support it. Socrata has helped us take that structure and open it up to communicate daily operations to residents.” —CountyStat Manager Ben Birge


In general, collecting, analyzing, and sharing data has been streamlined thanks to Prince George’s County’s use of Socrata’s platform. According to Birge, “Now, everything gets recorded and counted. Every little data metric is critical to the daily operations. We put in structures to support it. Socrata has helped us take that structure and open it up to communicate daily operations to residents.”

In another step toward greater efficiency, citizens and County staff are encouraged to use the Prince George’s County’s CountyClick 311 app so that all data funnels into a central location where issues and their resolutions may be easily mapped and tracked.

In general, Birge is excited about the level of automation of data flow for Prince George’s County. He says, “I used to wonder, ‘When is the Census data going to update?’ I don’t have to worry about that. It’s nobody’s job to worry about that now.”

Looking for ways your government can streamline the process of collecting and analyzing data? Contact Socrata — we'd love to brainstorm solutions. 

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