Anticipating Broader Availability of Integrated Contracts Data in the Near Future

Knowing where government social service investments are spent in relation to residents’ needs is central to assess whether these investments should be continued or improved. At present, we know of no city in the U.S. that can routinely answer this question across government departments and jurisdictional levels. There are at least three reasons for this:

1.         Government spending on social services is highly decentralized, with the majority of such services delivered by private providers under contract with government.  Data on these expenditures do not yet exist in centralized and standardized formats.

2.         Data on social service contract awards usually contain the headquarters address of the provider, but not the address where the service was delivered, or information on how contract amounts were allocated across multiple delivery sites.

3.         Data on resident needs is not publicly available at appropriate levels of spatial and temporal resolution: i.e., at small-scale geography, annually updated, and broken down by sub-populations (e.g., immigrants, children or seniors).

Given current efforts in several cities, however, we anticipate that over the next 1-5 years data that meet the above criteria will become publicly available.  In anticipation of this moment, the BigPic project is getting a head start on developing an integrated spatial data infrastructure and testing a spatial analytic framework to be ready to analyze these data as they come into the public domain.

Ideal partners for the BigPic project would be members of city or state agencies who have been concerned about the question of tracking social service contract funding and improving the data infrastructure needed to do so. We would like to identify and connect with cities that are in this group beyond New York.

 

Towards a Continuously Updated Social Service Data Infrastructure

Since all of the data needed to address the questions of the BigPic project do not exist yet in a central and common format in any city, one of the objectives of this project is to work with city staff to help improve the routine collection, validation and updating of these data in cities that have already made significant investments in this area. Through the analysis of soon-to-be-released data for New York, we seek to demonstrate the usefulness of improved data collection to improved matching of service supply and demand, thereby further motivating improvements in the data infrastructure needed to sustain a continuous analysis of these data.

 

Characteristics of Data Needed for this Project

This project requires at least annually updated human service supply and demand data for smaller geographic areas as illustrated in this table:

Type of Data

Source

Variables

Resolution

Availability

Supply Side        

 Service Contracts

City, county and state records

Provider name, service address(es), start /end date, amount, purpose

Annual, address

Some cities are starting to release these data; others are preparing this. 

Nonprofit Service Providers

IRS 990 form

Name, address, budget

Annual, address

National

Demand Side        
  LEHD Low-wage earners (excludes welfare) Annual (2-year delay), block National
  IRS income data Low-income residents Annual,(2yr delay), zipcode National
  City social indicators Sub-population in need of specific services Larger areas (e.g. cmty district or NTA) City

 

Internal administrative data (e.g. SNAP)

Sub-population in need of specific / mix of services

Address level restricted / small levels

City, county or state

We do know of several cities that have been working towards a more centralized and standardized way of collecting data on where contract-based social service funds are spent. For instance, New York City is already releasing the initial set of these data for 2016 at the city level in summer 2017 and for 2017 in December 2017. Importantly, these data include improved addresses of where services are delivered (as opposed to headquarter addresses where nonprofits administer contracts). Nationally, several cities (such as San Diego) have been working on improving public 211 systems that could be linked to social service contracts data. Within public agencies, the limitations on needs data for sub-populations can be overcome by integrating restricted data like SNAP food assistance for internal analyses.