Eviction Lab: One year laterThe impact of mapping over 80 million eviction recordsMapboxBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingJun 24By: Marena BrinkhurstWhen Princeton University’s Eviction Lab launched last year, it created a groundbreaking way to explore data on millions of evictions across the United States.
It has been one of my favorite examples of the impact that interactive map data visualizations can have for advocacy.
The lab is currently collaborating with WNYC’s On The Media for “The Scarlet E,” a four-part series exploring America’s eviction crisis.
The final episode airs Friday, June 28.
I caught up with two members of the original creative team, Creative Director James Minton, and Technical Lead Lane Olsen, now part of the team at Hyperobjekt, to discuss the Eviction Lab map one year later.
What has been the impact of Eviction Lab over the past year?James: It has been really amazing to watch this project develop.
We’ve seen the impact evolve through several phases already.
When the tool and data were first released, we saw a lot of stories that were diagnostic — looking at trends, hotspots, and places with particularly high eviction rates (like Richmond, Virginia).
Then, in a middle phase we saw more stories about people using the data to grapple with the problem by proposing solutions and organizing around it.
Now in the new year, we’ve started to see actual legislation being introduced — particularly in Virginia — and growth of a nationwide movement for the right to counsel in housing court.
Of course this project shouldn’t get all the credit — so much of it is deserved by people and organizations who’ve been working valiantly for years, in a less publicized way, on these issues — but the release of the data and the media attention appear to have been major catalyzing forces.
Eviction Lab users can generate ready-to-use presentations and PDF reportsWho have you seen using the tool?James: Through our website analytics we can see that the tool is being used extensively in educational institutions, from colleges to high schools.
Based on the patterns, it looks like Eviction Lab is being built into course modules and course management systems.
In fact, one day a student at Hunter College who I mentor sent me a text asking “Is this your website?” with a picture of her professor showing the map in her social work class.
It’s amazing to see it get such traction, and we’ve reached out to educators about how we can further support using Eviction Lab in classrooms.
Lane: We can see how many reports are being generated from the site — about 6,000 so far — and we also monitor the helpline for the website.
We’ve been getting tons of requests from citizens and elected officials or government departments asking questions about the data or requesting tailored slices of the data.
Someone from Housing & Urban Development (HUD) contacted us about a report, so we know being used at the national level.
So that says to us that this tool is being used to inform policy.
Can you pinpoint aspects of the tool design that you think have helped power this traction?James: I think a key element is finding the balance between open exploration of the data and guidance to particular findings or patterns that are interesting.
With massive datasets like this, it can be tempting to either leave it totally open or take people through a very carefully curated narrative.
We wanted to find a middle-ground where we can help people understand the data but then also explore it and build their own, locally-relevant narratives with it.
Lane: As part of that, making it easy for people to build and export reports of the data using whatever locations and indicators are most relevant for them has helped smooth the step between exploring a cool visualization and actually using it to help influence policy or use it in the classroom.
There is a clear, simple next step to move from being a consumer of the data to a user of the data.
Also, we also wanted to make the map easy to share and reuse — so we made it so that the map itself is embeddable.
This enables newsrooms to customize and drop our data visualizations within their stories, which can spare them the need to create their own visualizations.
Eviction Lab makes it easy for users to share or embed maps, generate polished reports, and access the full dataHas anything surprised you about Eviction Lab over the past year?James: To be honest, the biggest surprise is the impact.
I’ve worked in progressive causes enough that I understand how much persistent status quo inertia there is to get past.
The degree to which Eviction Lab has taken off and catalyzed actual changes, the degree to which we can see the work having impact on the ground — it has honestly surprised me.
And it has made me more optimistic, and so grateful to be involved.
What is something that this project has taught you?Lane: One of my favorite learnings is the value of having an internal “media map” to plot where media stories are happening.
We keep track of any media pieces that mention Eviction Lab, just in a Google Sheet, and then if it is a local story we note a long/lat for the location and then visualize it on a simple internal map and if it is a national story we visualize the impact in a side dashboard.
Eviction Lab’s internal ‘media map’ to visualize media stories that use the dataJames: It’s pretty cool to see the extent of the coverage and variety of outlets — I’ve never had that kind of follow-up and tracking on a project before.
We didn’t realize how useful it would be — we just thought it would be a quick and easy way to visualize the volume of stories, and it was intuitive to put them on a map as well.
But it’s become such a valuable way of gauging public impact that we’ll definitely be doing that again for future projects.
What’s next on the horizon?James: We’ve been working with the team at the On The Media, a weekly radio program from National Public Radio and WNYC, New York Public Radio.
They are producing a series called “The Scarlet E” with an accompanying website, that launched on June 7th.
They have built an embedded Eviction Lab scorecard comparator to let users compare their state to the states featured in the series (Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, and Georgia).
We’re excited to see how this will reach more people and engage new audiences in further exploring the Eviction Lab data.
We’ll also be working with the Princeton research team to launch a revised eviction dataset soon, along with other site updates.
Beyond that, the Hyperobjekt team has been busy with a few projects in partnership with Stanford and Princeton, which will go public in late summer and fall: one that involves mapping nationwide education data, another that has us visualizing research into Universal Basic Income, and another charting student loan debt.
We’re excited about these because they are each groundbreaking in their own ways and they’ll offer a lot of value to the public.
Explore Eviction Lab for more detailed data and inspiration about creating mapping tools with positive impact.
Explore the new Eviction Lab scorecard tool and listen to the four episode series about eviction by On The Media.
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