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Rural Health Information Hub

Mobilizing Change to Address Health Inequities Through Data

Rural communities should consider which community members will ultimately be affected by their efforts to advance health equity. Communities that experience health inequities are often asked to provide their data for research efforts but may never see the results of the study or experience change as a result of their participation. These one-way relationships can erode trust and make it difficult to engage community members in future health equity initiatives and research. Community programs should consider making data available to rural communities working to reduce health inequities.

Data can be a powerful tool to identify health disparities and make a case for investing in programs that serve communities experiencing inequities. However, raw data can be difficult for the public to access and interpret. Rural program planners may choose to use data to create maps, charts, and other graphics to tell a story and visualize major takeaways from the data. Data visualizations may help engage rather than overwhelm the audience. Easy-to-understand graphics can be impactful for communicating the extent and impact of health inequities. Maps are also powerful tools for making comparisons between communities in rural areas or between rural and urban counties. For example, the Solutions in Health Analytics for Rural Equity across the Northwest (SHARE-NW) project is a collaborative that is working to improve access and availability of data to better understand the intricate social conditions that affect health and health equity in 70 rural jurisdictions spanning across three states (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho).

There are several free online data visualization tools that can help rural communities make data publicly available. Most tools are user-friendly and either provide instruction videos for how to get started or provide links to free tutorials that can be found online.

Examples of free web-based data visualization tools include:

  • Tableau Public – A free online service that allows users to create interactive data visualizations called "Vizzes" that can be shared on webpages, blogs, social media, and email. Once Vizzes are published, they can be accessed by anyone with internet service and downloaded for offline use.
  • Chartist.js – A free online charting library that allows users to create compelling charts that can be shared via email and webpages. Users can also make maps available for download by the public.
  • UdigGIS – A free, user-friendly desktop version of the commonly used GIS software for map creation.
  • Datawrapper – A free web tool for creating interactive charts and maps, with no design skills required. Data can be copied from Microsoft Excel or Google for added simplicity.

Resources to Learn More

Data Visualization and Health Equity Best Practices Checklist
A guide for developing data communication and visualization materials with direct considerations on equity related to race, gender, and ability and its role in health communication.
Organization(s): Partners for Family Health Louisiana, Louisiana Department of Health
Date: 3/2022

Incorporating Data into Your Work
An interactive guide and video on how to select strong and compelling data points from comprehensive datasets and use data to create an effective narrative.
Organization(s): Community Health Training Institute

Investing in Data Capacity for Community Change
Details the need for accessible community data and discusses how to promote, champion, and invest in community data to support community capacity-building.
Author(s): Hendry, L., Pettit, K. L. S., Cowan, J., & Gaddy, M.
Organization(s): The Urban Institute
Date: 6/2020