By Theresa Frasca
ANN ARBOR—For three years the people of Flint, MI have endured a public water crisis. Now academic and community organizations are working to aid the beleaguered city and prevent another public health disaster by increasing access to local socioeconomic and health data.
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city switched its drinking water source to the Flint River, a cost-saving measure that exposed thousands of residents to potentially dangerous levels of lead. While the drinking water is now considered safe, some residents continue to consume only bottled or filtered water as the state works to replace hazardous lead pipes, a project that is expected to conclude by 2020. The crisis captured the attention of the world, exposing the complex social, political and health issues that challenge socioeconomically fragile communities.
Believing a better informed public can protect itself from future health crises, local academic institutions and community organizations formed the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center (HFRCC) to identify and disseminate local information through Open Data Flint. The HFRCC is a partnership of Flint community leaders, community-based organization partners, and researchers at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and -Flint, and Michigan State University.
Open Data Flint’s mission is to improve the future for the residents of Flint by providing them with free and equitable access to relevant data. By analyzing and disseminating the data to Flint residents, researchers, policymakers and the public, the project’s collaborators hope to foster a positive change in Flint. The project includes data on community health, relationship dynamics and social life, school dropout and substance use, voting behavior, crime, and small business.
Open Data Flint’s website facilitates broad dissemination of this information as well as additional data deposits via the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at U-M’s Institute for Social Research (ISR).
“We want to promote Open Data Flint beyond the traditional audience, that of researchers and those within the academic realm, to those in community and policy-makers,” says Justin Noble, ICPSR’s acquisitions manager. “Our hope is that Open Data Flint becomes a true community resource.”
The information on the website ranges from ISR studies to subsets of Flint and Genessee County census data. The site provides guidelines for researchers, Flint community members, and health professionals on searching, browsing and using the data available on the site. It also features infographics summarizing information ascertained from recent research.
Open Data Flint is working to develop training sessions and workshops for Flint community members to utilize the website.
By compiling and disseminating this information on Flint, the HFRCC hopes to enhance the public’s understanding of the city’s socioeconomic and health issues to more effectively address their concerns.
For more information, visit www.opendataflint.org.