Urban Wire A DataCamp to help the 7 million young people who are out of work and out of school
Jonathan Schwabish
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Conducting economic research is not just about finding data, downloading them, and running a bunch of regressions. Sometimes it’s about actually talking to people, hearing their stories and challenges, and finding ways to help them and others like them succeed. Other times, it’s about bringing together people with different interests, skills, and agendas to seek ways to improve the world around us.

At the Urban Institute, we do all of these and more. Recently, we have expanded our efforts to engage with different groups and elevate the policy debate by hosting day-long events dedicated to working with and exploring data and public policies.

In these events—or, as we call them, DataCamps—technologists, policymakers, researchers, analysts, and service providers pool their expertise, explore existing data, and suggest ways to improve or better use those data.

In early May, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, we hosted a DataCamp on youth unemployment with the Urban Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income youth in DC, Northern Virginia, Baltimore, and Chicago. Nearly 7 million people between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of work and out of school. Urban Alliance helps these young people succeed in the workforce through paid internships, formal training, and mentorship.

To help the Urban Alliance and similar nonprofits, volunteers at the DataCamp discussed the challenges of collecting data on what skills young people need to learn to be successful in the workforce and what types of training works: Can nonprofits collect better metrics? Should they assess different “soft skills” such as communication, language, and interpersonal skills? Or should the timing of data collection change? Helping the Urban Alliance improve their data collection and analysis can help providers assess and improve their programs, making them better able to help young people find work or school.

As a research institute, the Urban Institute believes that part of our mission is bringing people together to discuss, analyze, and tackle the important social and policy issues of our day. Our DataCamp events do not focus just on data or on the technology of making a webpage or application. Our events are rooted in policy discussions and how data can be used to help motivate solutions and improve social and public policy. Bringing different groups together means that analysts can help technologists better understand what may be in the data instead of leaving them to figure it out on their own, and technologists can help analysts by assessing and visualizing the data in different ways.

Based on feedback from the DataCamp, the Urban Alliance has developed a new soft-skills assessment form, which they will pilot this summer and hope to fully implement this fall. And while the Urban Alliance continues to evaluate the data work and policy discussions from the event, we have published a longer brief about youth-employment program data collections and assessments.

We hope to continue hosting more DataCamps and bringing together people of different skills and interests. By tapping into our expanding networks of researchers and experts, programmers, and technologists, Urban is positioned to elevate the debate on important issues.

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