Why Every State and City Needs a Recovery Tracking Dashboard

Why Every State and City Needs a Recovery Tracking Dashboard

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 is a game-changing relief package for families and workers impacted by the current public health crisis, as well as to the states, counties, and cities that serve them. But how will we track its impact?

Never before has the federal government administered this level of financial support to states and local municipalities - with the specific intent to address systemic public health and economic challenges across the country

As government administrators, how do you make sure this funding results in long-term, measurable improvements for your citizens?

How do you spend ARPA funds intelligently and equitably so that you lay the foundation for a strong economic recovery for all?

And how might you accelerate your learning around which policies, programs, and projects work best to lead your community forward? 

In this post, we are going to share how to make the right funding decisions with the use of a Recovery Dashboard.

We’ll introduce a prototype of a Recovery Dashboard, using existing Census data, so you can visualize what one might look like for your state or city.

By the end of this post, you’ll:

  • be inspired to use ARPA funding to activate a mindset shift for your government teams
  • uncover how a Recovery Dashboard can help you spend ARPA funds effectively
  • explore the use of Census data to create a Recovery Dashboard of your own 
  • learn how a Recovery Dashboard can help with the U.S. Treasury reporting requirements

So, let’s dig right into it. 

How might you use ARPA funds to spur an era of innovation for your state, county, or city? 

The American Rescue Plan Act includes a $1.9 trillion comprehensive package to individuals, federal agencies, states, counties, and cities over the next three years. For our current purposes, we focus on the allocation of $350 billion in fiscal recovery funds to states, counties, and cities. 

The intent of ARPA funds is twofold: 

(1) to provide immediate economic support for public health institutions, government entities, households, and businesses impacted by the pandemic and 

(2) to catalyze broader economic recovery and rebuilding. 

While there are general categories and program recommendations articulated by the U.S. Treasury, state and local governments have substantial flexibility in deciding who receives these funds, how much, and towards what impact. 

States and local governments also have flexibility in deciding when to spend these funds. While half of the funds have already been made available, governments have a 3-year window within which to spend funds allocated (up until Dec. 31, 2024). 

So, while there is the option to spend these funds immediately, governments have time to direct these funds in a meaningful and responsible way. 

These two factors provide fertile ground for state and local governments to innovate in how they approach program design and delivery - especially as it relates to catalyzing broader economic recovery. 

Rather than allocate huge sums towards specific programs or projects at the beginning of a planning year in hopes of a desired result, governments have an opportunity to pilot and scale projects with an eye towards learning what works. 

This can be a huge mindset shift for your government teams. What would it look like to put on your public entrepreneur hat, like that proposed by Mitchell Weiss in We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems? 

What if you used this one-time injection of support to think expansively about what’s possible? 

We recommend bringing your stakeholders together to begin to answer these questions:

  • Given where we are now, what are the greatest problems facing our communities? Who is disproportionately impacted by the public health crisis and its associated effects?
  • How might we take an iterative, evidence-based approach towards solving those problems? How might we scale and continuously improve those solutions over time?
  • Given existing initiatives and funding sources, where and when does it make sense to use ARPA funds to implement solutions? 

Of course, it’s crucial to have an informed understanding of where your community stands now in order to have a productive conversation about solutions. For that, you need credible, real-time data visualized in a way that helps you see which populations are most impacted so that you can better direct your efforts. 

What is a Recovery Dashboard? Why do states and cities need one? 

States and local governments learned a lot about the challenges of data collection, analysis, and reporting during the last year of the pandemic. The challenge was so great in fact, that it took a non-governmental entity, The Atlantic, to create the most reliable public health dashboard for government officials, journalists, and scientists during the pandemic. 

While public health data collection and reporting continues to be a challenge, especially in the wake of COVID-19 mutation spread throughout the country, there is also an urgent need to track associated impacts of the public health challenge. This means going beyond tracking macro-economic trends at the national level (as demonstrated by CNN’s Economic Recovery Tracker or the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker) to tracking what’s going at the state and local level.         

To address this need, we suggest that states and cities develop Recovery Dashboards designed specifically for tracking and improving outcomes at the level that is actionable for them. 

Ideally, Recovery Dashboards visualize data at the local level to understand who has been most impacted by the pandemic, as well as the nature and extent of those impacts, in order to help governments direct ARPA funds to address those impacts.  

Using U.S. Census Data as a Starting Point for Your Recovery Dashboard

As a start in this direction, Civic Wisdom created prototypes of Recovery Dashboards for states and cities using data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey

This data set is unique in that it consists of near real-time responses from a representative sample of households across the country. Through an online survey, the U.S. Census polled households about every two weeks to understand a wide range of impacts related to childcare, education, employment, food security, health, housing, and household spending. We currently have data starting from April 2020 until July 2021. 

The benefits of using this data are three-fold:

  • Relevance: The questions in the Household Pulse Survey are designed to elicit data related to immediate pandemic impacts. In fact, the Census edited the question design over three phases in order to assess responses to the evolving pandemic situation.
  • Socio-Demographic Specificity: The Household Pulse Survey collected socio-demographic data in order to understand the pandemic impacts across income levels and racial/ethnic backgrounds. This information is critical for assessing who has been disproportionately impacted. 
  • Longitudinal View: The Household Pulse Survey responses span through nearly the entirety of the pandemic to date. This information is important for understanding the impact of certain policy instruments, such as individual stimulus checks, on the ability to pay rent or meet household expenditures over time. 

From this data set, we selected five indicators for the Recovery Dashboard prototypes. We selected those indicators based on (1) consistency (same question used throughout all three phases of data collection), (2) basic needs (question surfaces information about a household’s abilities to meet basic needs), and (3) impact (question surfaces critical information that impacts a significant portion of the population). 

The 5 indicators displayed in the Recovery Dashboard prototypes are:

  1. Education: the % of K-12 students who received no in-person or virtual instruction by a teacher during the 2020-2021 school year
  2. Household Expenses: the % of households who reported it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to pay for household expenses over the last 7 days
  3. Food Insecurity: the % of families with children who reported that they “often” or “sometimes” did not have enough food to eat in the last 7 days
  4. Housing Insecurity: the % of renting households that report not being caught up on rent payments 
  5. Mental Health: the % of adults that report feeling “anxious or nervous” several or more days or nearly every day in the last 7 days

We also visualized responses for each of these indicators by ethnic/racial background. 

You can check out the Recovery Dashboard prototype for your state or metro region here. 

We want to stress again that we see the U.S. Census Household Pulse data as a starting point for Recovery Dashboards. The U.S. Census views this data set as an “experimental data product,” meaning that it uses “new data sources or methodologies that benefit data users in the absence of other relevant products” and “may not meet all of our quality standards.” As such, there are limitations to this data that must be considered when creating an actual Recovery Dashboard for your state or city. 

Limitations to the U.S. Census Household Pulse data include:

  • Changes in question design across the three phases of data collection (leading to an inability to track certain responses over time)
  • Adding more questions in subsequent phases of data collection (leading to higher survey drop-off rates in more recent data collections)
  • Uncertainty of future data collection (the latest information from the Census states that data collection will continue through August 11, 2021)
  • A high margin of error for certain responses (leading to an inability to use some of this data for analysis) 
  • Collection of responses at the state and 15 “metro region” level only (leading to an inability to parse data by county or city level)
  • Data collection begins in April 2020 (leading to an inability to benchmark indicators to “pre-pandemic” levels)

Given these limitations, we were deliberate in the decision to use the Household Weekly Pulse Data set for the current Recovery Dashboard prototypes. Based on our analysis and in consultation with other senior survey specialists, we found this data set to be of sufficient quality for visualizing snapshot and longitudinal data for the five indicators. 

Moving forward, there is a tremendous need for a more robust approach to data collection, analysis, and reporting when it comes to understanding household-level pandemic impacts. We are working with state and local governments to uncover ways to consistently source valid and reliable data for measuring pandemic impacts and the effectiveness of ARPA-funded projects to mitigate those impacts. 

At the very least, we believe that this data set provides a solid starting point to begin designing policy, program, or project interventions with ARPA funds. 

Using a Recovery Dashboard to Meet U.S. Treasury Reporting Requirements of ARPA Funds

The last reason why your state, county, and city needs a Recovery Dashboard is to make it easier to comply with the U.S. Treasury Reporting Requirements for ARPA funds. 

According to the U.S. Treasury, states, territories, counties, and cities with a population of 250,000 residents or more are required to submit annual Recovery Plan Performance reports. 

These reports must include: 

  • Justification for the selection of programs or projects and the funding amount
  • Program or project plans that specific how outcomes are to be achieved in an “effective, efficient, and equitable manner” 
  • Identification and reporting of key performance indicators for the program or project

Ideally, a Recovery Dashboard enables governments to easily assess the impact of ARPA-funded programs and projects and compiles this data for ongoing reporting. 

For the current Recovery Dashboard prototype, we have included the total amount of ARPA funds each state or metro region is slated to receive. For metro regions, we provided the sum total amount of ARPA funds for the three major cities listed by the U.S. Census. 

What are the next steps for creating a Recovery Dashboard of your own? 

Civic Wisdom is looking to partner with state and local governments to build Recovery Dashboards that are tailored to your needs. Through our trainings and consultations, we can help you: 

  • Understand how measurement leads to better governance of funds and better outcomes for citizens
  • Create a citizen outcome map that links policies and programs to results for citizens
  • Define metrics in ways that make it easier to gather and track relevant data
  • Interpret data trends for planning and responding to change

Reach out to attend an upcoming workshop or schedule a time to speak with someone from our team.

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