Cluster Maps Project Helps Groups Identify Allies in Indiana

The Indiana Data Partnership features visualizations meant to connect nonprofits, government agencies and private-sector organizations in their work to solve societal issues, like the ongoing opioid epidemic.

by / August 15, 2019
This photo showcases a cluster map of Indiana's workforce and education data. Courtesy Photo via the Indiana Data Partnership

An network of datapoints was crafted in Indiana through a partnership between the state’s Management Performance Hub (MPH) and Indiana University (IU). The visualization is meant to give nonprofits, government agencies and private-sector companies a glimpse at how they are connected and the degrees of separation between organizations.

This web, officially known as the Indiana Data Partnership (IDP), launched late last month. The system was developed in house by MPH and three IU centers: The Public Policy Institute, the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) and The Polis Center. Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation, awarded the hub and university a $2.5 million grant in 2018 to stand up the IDP.

Chief Data Officer Darshan Shah, who leads the performance hub, said the partnership is an extension of his agency’s mission to enable organizations within and without government to leverage information that will improve their operations and services. 

“The goal is for us to be able to create these cluster maps for organizations to better be able to understand who each other is,” Shah told Government Technology.

As Shah and project collaborators see it, giving organizations the tools to see potential allies they never knew existed can go a long way toward reaching their shared goals.

Carol Rogers, co-director and chief information officer of the IBRC, said the project originated from the idea of creating a better use for the data held within existing warehouses.

“Our overall goal is to handle large data sets from institutional/administrative sources, as well as smaller contributions from organizational partners focused on specific, and often localized community-based initiatives,” Rogers said. “We’ve also identified several potential applications for the use of AI in the future development of the IDP.”

The IDP uses the state-of-the-art MPH technology and the university’s specialized technology powering research in its operation, she said. The cluster maps are included in presentations written by the partner agencies explaining the data points. 

Shah said the group will continue to develop its current use cases addressing the opioid epidemic, improving education and workforce development before expanding to other initiatives.

“There [are] a lot of problems that we believe these cluster maps and the IDP itself can help support,” Shah said. “Like any good solution, the challenge is around which areas are you going to focus on, what’s going to be the priority, how are you going to be able to determine which areas are going to create the biggest impact and keeping the focus on those areas."

"Right now we’re on opioids, [improving education and workforce development]. We could very easily leave those arenas and go into other domain areas, but we believe there are a number of additional use cases that we want to tackle in those arenas,” he continued.

Rogers said that before the system’s official launch last month, it went through a pilot phase, which quickly showed the potential benefits of interconnected datapoints. She said by using network analysis, the IDP has been able to help organizations see who is affected by a “problem” and which organization can be a part of the potential solution.

“As the landscape becomes more clearly defined through the growth of available data, we aim to be able to identify both gaps and redundancy within local and statewide networks, as well as parts of networks that may represent bottlenecks in the movement of information and resources,” Rogers said.

The cluster maps do show entities that are not connected to the larger network, Shah said. Another goal of the IDP is to bring those floating organizations into the greater fold.

“Much of the data that’s behind these cluster maps is really intended to be able to kind of create these clusters to help organizations better and more effectively create these strategic partnerships,” he said.

Aside from the technical challenges faced during the pilot phase, the greatest obstacle going forward will be ensuring all participants in the data sharing initiative have the security and privacy protection they need, Rogers explained. She said the strong MPH legal counsel and the understanding that the goal is to benefit the state in the long term should mitigate those potential problems.

“We had to take some twists and turns — OK, failed a few times — with the initial technologies we used, but we are now well along in the middle phase of the project, having decided to build our own match software but to license a data virtualization platform for the resulting data sharing piece,” she said in an email to Government Technology. “It was critical that we and MPH develop these new processes and tools for sharing and to allow for a circular flow — from us to them, from a nonprofit to MPH and then to results returned to us and the public; rinse and repeat. I like to call it a virtuous circle."

Moving forward, Shah said the hub and university are coordinating sessions with other groups from academia, government and community organizations to spread the word about the IDP and its capabilities, solicit feedback and add more partners to the project.

“There’s a lot of opportunities here and we’re excited to see how this can continue to grow and the reception that we receive from the community as they play around with it,” Shah said.

Patrick Groves Staff Writer

Patrick Groves is a staff writer for Government Technology. Previously, he worked for five years at newspapers in Washington state, Idaho, Florida and Northern California. He has a Bachelor’s degree in communication from Washington State University and lives in Northern California.

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