The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 14, 2014

Urban Institute's first data dive calls for better data on domestic violence

November 14, 2014

Roughly 1 in 4 women is estimated to be a victim of intimate partner abuse. In certain populations, where data may be less reliable and sample sizes may be smaller, rates of domestic abuse may be even higher. For example, estimates suggest that about 1 out of every 2 women in the Asian/Pacific Islander community have been a victim of intimate partner abuse.

To understand the characteristics and patterns of domestic violence we must assess and analyze existing data and acknowledge what we don’t know. We must determine the gaps in the data and the populations that may be suffering in silence and isolation.

To help do that, the Urban Institute partnered with the nonprofit Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) and the data platform company Socrata to host its first-ever data dive on November 1st and help highlight the lack of reliable and quality data about domestic violence.

Typical data dives—sometimes called hackathons, codeathons, or data jams—bring together civic-minded technologists (such as coders, programmers, and designers) to work together on a specific challenge. That challenge could be building a website, a mobile app, or a data visualization, or processing data in different ways.

The goal of the Urban Data Dive was to bring together technologists with policymakers, researchers, analysts, and domestic violence service providers to work with data about domestic violence and better understand the biases and shortcomings in those data. In particular, it is crucial but challenging to collect and analyze survey data on domestic violence and intimate partner violence in a way that reflects the experiences of increasingly diverse communities. The importance of cultural and linguistic appropriateness in the collection of this sensitive data is critical to the validity of findings.

For example, interviewers collecting information for many nationally representative data sets may offer only English- and Spanish-speaking options; this may disproportionately affect the quality of responses for members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community, many of whom have limited English proficiency.

Bringing together coder folk and policy folk

The data dive started with representatives from DVRP and the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence discussing basic issues about domestic violence and how better data could help researchers and policymakers understand the issue.

Following this panel discussion, we broke the nearly 50 volunteers into two groups: a group of technologists and a group of policy and service experts. On one side of the room, technologists worked with domestic violence data (hosted on the Socrata platform) to visualize those data in different ways. By the end of the day, they had come up with nearly 12 different data visualizations, some illustrating the lack of data coverage, some showing certain demographic characteristics of domestic violence victims, and others combining domestic violence resource centers with crime data.

On the other side of the room, policymakers, researchers, and domestic violence service providers flushed out the pitfalls of the standard data collection efforts and sketched out the beginnings of a document calling for better data on domestic violence. That group drafted a long list of suggestions and recommendations and also discussed an entirely new branch of survey design in this area.

The two groups did not work in isolation. By mixing the two together early in the day, the technologists better understood what types of information were valuable to the researchers, and the researchers had a better sense of what could and could not be done with the available data.

Results from both groups will be released over the coming weeks and we hope you will learn much about existing domestic violence data and the gaps in those data.

We hope this unique event sets the stage for future gatherings of people of different skills and interests. By tapping into its expanding network of researchers and experts, and combining those networks with experts who are able to create new technologies and interactive tools, Urban is positioned to elevate the debate on different important issues and technological challenges.

Photo from Urban Institute data dive by Matt Johnson, Urban Institute.

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.