Meet Leila Forouzan. Leila works at the Advancement Project California, a next generation, multiracial civil rights organization working on systems change. The staff in the California offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento work to expand opportunities in our educational systems, create healthy built environments and communities, develop the connective tissue of an inclusive democracy, and shift public investments towards equity.
For almost 20 years, Advancement Project California has collaborated with progressive community partners and leaders to transform the public systems impacting the lives of low-income people of color in California.
As one of their data scientists she helps to lead the development of rigorous evidence-based solutions and innovative technology and tools with coalition partners to advance the field, build partnerships between community advocates and the halls of power, and broker racial and socioeconomic equity.
How’d you get into data?
I work for social and racial justice in part because my mother served as a wonderful example for me of someone who has advocated on many such issues throughout her life. I am a Research and Data Analyst because of my experiences while pursuing my Master’s in Public Administration. I was lucky enough to be a research assistant to a professor who used GIS in her work. She opened my eyes to the powerful impact a map can have on policy decisions. I also had a wonderful statistics professor who taught me how to use data and statistics for policy. I believe that putting administrative data, such as Census or education data, together with personal stories and community data will result in the most persuasive and rigorous argument for social justice.
What are your go-to analysis and visualization tools?
At the Advancement Project, we use pgAdmin which is an open source administration and development platform for PostgreSQL databases. The key for us when working with data is to work in partnership with community organizations like CoCo, Inner City Struggle, LA CAN, Pacoima Beautiful, and many others across the state. Our goal is to produce things they would benefit from and can use in their work. A 40-page report may not be that helpful for activists. We need to come to people where and how they’re organizing. We need to share our skills and empower organizers to do their own data work. I recommend Tableau because it has a free version and requires limited training to do visualizations, along with Microsoft Excel for simple charts.
What issue in Los Angeles County do you think has the most potential for a data-driven solution?
Most of the issues that I’ve used data to help address have involved making government more responsive to community needs. Advancement Project worked with partners across the state on 2010 Census outreach. We used mapping software to make sure we were reaching all hard-to-count areas and were not duplicating our efforts. Among other projects, we are currently working in partnership to make sure the state and counties equitably reinvest savings from Prop 47 into much needed services.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start using LA Counts datasets to tell their own stories?
Don’t underestimate the potential of one-pagers or power statements like “youth in neighborhood X are 5X as likely to have asthma as youth from neighborhood Y.” Speak in the simplest possible terms, like 1 in 2 people instead of 50% of people, to make your findings easier to understand. Target your data and your message. When we speak to electeds we bring data about their particular district but make sure you have local data, like ZIP Code or Census Tract level, if you’re tackling a neighborhood issue. Screenshots of data visualizations that others have created online can be a great time-saver, just make sure it’s a trustworthy source and give credit to the author(s). Combine data with community stories to tell the most effective story. You need all kinds of data to tell a story that influences and touches people.