Death, donations, and doing good

The ice bucket challenge was undoubtedly a media and fundraising success for the ALS Association. For many people this was an opportunity to “do good” and call out their friends on social media to do the same. Skepticism mounted as social media feeds were inundated with ice bucket participant videos.

Plenty Consulting looked at the data and found that daily donations to the ALS Association (ALSA) remained the same even as the number of ice bucket challenge participants grew exponentially. Donations to the ALS Association were 35% higher than last year, but were all the non-donating participants missed fundraising opportunities or simply “do good” imposters? Perhaps it is helping to foster a culture of giving?

Vox published a widely shared bubble chart (above) that demonstrated which diseases kill the most people compared to which diseases get the most donations. This chart is flawed in the sense that comparing one-time fundraisers, such as a Breast Cancer Walk, isn’t enough to capture which diseases get the most overall funding.

Others took a more statistical approach to their skepticism. One individual (redditor SirT6) chose to look at NIH funding and disability-adjusted life years (logarithmic) to compare some of the top diseases that get funding compared to their impact on lifespan.

I think both measures in the above chart are flawed in that NIH funding is a poor indicator of where the general public is donating and also it is nearly impossible to compare the suffering and impact of each individual disease through adjusted life years.

Instead I chose to identify the largest charity for each of the top 15 diseases that kill people in the US (excluding #5 unintentional accidents) based on the 2011 National Vital Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A few charities took on multiple diseases, such as the American Heart Association (AHA) working on heart disease (#1) and stroke (#4) or the American Lung Association (ALA) covering lower respiratory disease (#4), pneumonia (#8), and lung inflammation (#15). By searching the most recent IRS Form 990 from each charity I looked at their Total Revenue (fiscal year) as well as the percent of the Total Revenue that came from Contributions (fundraising, grants, etc.). I figured this gives the best indication of where both individuals and other foundations or nonprofits are giving their donations. I then compared each disease/ cause of death in its “per 100,000” prevalence rate.

disease-donors

The size of the bubble represents the percentage of total revenue that comes from donations. The big take away here is that some of the most deadly diseases are getting larger amounts of funding. However, there are a handful of diseases that definitely aren’t getting enough (i.e. Septicimia), but are three times as deadly as ALS. Lung diseases really aren’t getting a lot of donations, but seem to remain highly funded regardless. In my research for this I was surprised to find that HIV/AIDS per 100,000 rate is less than ALS at 2.5. In particular areas, such as Detroit, HIV/AIDS is a much larger problem, but it is good to see that advances in treatment and prevention have lowered the national rate.

The majority of charities depend on contributions and donations to fund their efforts, pay salaries, and cover expenses. It is difficult to say what percentage is used for prevention activities or for finding a cure, but very obviously not all diseases are funded equally. Likewise, not all diseases contribute to the deaths of people at the same rates. Does that mean some should get more funding over others?

Data, People, and Water: the need for people-centered innovation in Detroit

“Orr on Wednesday said more needs to be done to differentiate the legitimate residential accounts from those connected to blighted and abandoned properties, or occupied by squatters or used as drug houses — conduct that the city doesn’t want to facilitate.” – Detroit News

Following the most comprehensive survey of Detroit property to date, Motor City Mapping, the above quote from Emergency Manager Orr should be a moot point. It would take less than a few hours to check a list of delinquent water accounts against a list of “vacant” or “unoccupied” properties across the city. Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit’s new Chief Information Officer (CIO) Beth Niblock seem to be on board with opening up the city’s data as well as utilizing more technology to better provide services to residents.

Here is my short list of data that should have been utilized to better serve Detroit residents as opposed to penalizing them or resorting to scare tactics.

1. Motor City Mapping: In the most comprehensive citywide parcel survey ever conducted, a host of Detroit data focused organizations have compiled an incredible set of data and they have released it openly to the public. As Detroit works to revolutionize its technologies how did it miss the boat in utilizing this recent, widely publicized data survey. Again, it would take less than a few hours to check a list of delinquent water accounts against a list of “vacant” or “unoccupied” properties.

2. Census Bureau Data: Detroit residents are over 30% unemployed and 40% living below the poverty line. Many residents of Detroit are individuals who have been unable to leave, but have made it through Detroit’s toughest times. Detroit is a man-made disaster zone that has evolved slowly over the course of six decades. The city and the problems that residents face lay bare the inadequacies of our current systems to serve all residents. Neither the city government nor the emergency manager can rely on punitive actions to do any good for current or future Detroit residents.

3. District Managers and Community Networks: The DWSD contracted out door-to-door residential water shutoffs to a profit driven corporation. Any community organization in the city will tell you that mailing notices to residents is not enough. Many community organizations utilize a network of contacts and pay street teams to spread the word about community programs. Would it have really been that hard to do some basic canvassing to get people set up with assistance instead of just shutting off water completely? Why weren’t the new District Managers utilized?

Emergency Manager Orr and Mayor Duggan truly need to take a lesson from Detroit Mayors past who instead of making harmful decisions chose to serve the needs of residents first. Mayor Pingree utilized vacant land to feed the hungry and launched new programs for the poor during the 1893 economic depression. Mayor Murphy supported 400 acres of gardens and turned old factories into housing for the homeless during the Great Depression.

At this time of Detroit “revitalization,” when will Detroit’s decision-makers demonstrate that keeping people (both wealthy and poor) in the city will be better for Detroit’s future. Instead of these harmful actions, the Detroit government needs to push for greater people-centered innovation to serve all residents.

Data: Detroit Homicide Reporting Doesn’t Add Up 2009 – 2013

DETROITography

homicide_data

I’ve been actively engaged in tracking homicides in Detroit for a few years now thanks to the efforts of Cham Green and the independent Detroit Crime and Homicide Group, which has spent the last years combing news articles, Detroit Police Department (DPD) major crime reports, and checking these against FOIA requested homicide numbers. There is no other comprehensive or working system to keep track of crime and homicide in the City of Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press requested homicides in 2011 as part of a FOIA. The data they obtained went back to 2008 with about a dozen cases from 1970 and 1980s. Needless to say, the FOIA made it evident that the City of Detroit was seriously lacking in its ability to keep track of crimes and report them in an accurate and timely manner. I can’t say that I’m surprised with the regular cost cutting within the DPD…

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Map of the Week: People Killed in Cars Excel Map

1671469-slide-slide-5-a-brilliant-traffic-data-viz

This is an excellent map that was made all in Excel. This one shows weather related car deaths by regions (not sure what geographic unit) in the US. I’ve noticed a few projects now that really utilize the low cost Excel program for graphic design and mapping. The visualizations featured on FastCoDesign really caught my eye.

Full article and more infographic here.