Community Profile: Andrew Schrock


Meet Andrew Schrock. He’s a communication researcher by day as well as an author and instructor at USC and UCLA.

How’d you get into data?

I have a degree in Computer Science. That sparked my curiosity about the relationship between data and communication. More recently, I’ve gotten excited by the potential for open data platforms to be an emerging form of communication with the public. These platforms should ideally be a meeting place for citizens and government. Through my own research, I’ve spent the last few years looking at what data scientists and grassroots groups do with data. To me, data is a communication medium, so how data are hosted, and what people hope to use it for, impacts its value to society.

What are your go-to analysis and visualization tools?

I work a lot with mid-level data at the group, organization, and community level. I use STATA (quantitative analysis) and NVivo (qualitative analysis). Because lot of my research is about the communication between people who use the data, I also use methodologies like ethnography at events like “civic hackathons.” I then analyze qualitative data to make comparisons and draw conclusions, often by bringing it together with quantitative data. Data helps you imagine the life of the people you’re working with, so it’s a good starting point for opening up a lot of questions.

What issue in Los Angeles County do you think has the most potential for a data-driven solution?

Transportation is an interesting area, from looking at who rides bikes to where traffic fatalities occur. It would be great if someone could figure out why the recent spike in pedestrian fatalities has occurred, and what can be done about it. Data is also a good tool for justifying programs for at-risk citizens. For people on the margins, data can help their issues stay in front of politicians. Data can’t exist on its own, it has to connect elected representatives and the public with particular problems. So I’m excited about how people in this space are improving service design and community collaboration.

What’s your favorite “data-story”?

I used the LA Counts platform in one of my classes for digital humanities students. The class is partly a coding bootcamp, and partly a debate about what “literacy” means in the context of code and data. My students wanted to understand the relationships between things happening in the community and how to analyze these events. This is where the platform came in handy, because it has so many types of data. My students were all interdisciplinary, so it was important to point them to a resource with both depth and a breadth of topics. Students downloaded the data, and through the datasets they did some basic analysis like frequency or averages for a particular category. One student downloaded Los Angeles County data to look at different kinds of officer-involved shootings. Another looked at different types of landmarks across the County. Some students looked at CalTrans data to see where the easiest places to drive around are.

What advice do you have for someone looking to start using LA Counts datasets to tell their own stories?

In my research, I’ve found that there are many entry points for conversations and storytelling about social issues. Valuable venues include grassroots groups like Hack for LA, social media platforms… and don’t forget local newspapers and other publications. We need a diverse population of data users for greater representation and more equitable distribution of power in this space. This can only happen if residents, organizational partners, and policy-makers and connected in a larger ecosystem of communication about social change.

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