Students and faculty of the Austin Area Sustainability Indicators (A2SI) project and local organization Go Austin, Vamos Austin (GAVA) have released a brief outlining the results of their 2020 survey of residents in the 78744 and 78753 zip codes. The team hopes that this detailed, zip-code-level data can inform elected officials and empower community members to start meaningful conversations about policies affecting their health and wellbeing.
“The [A2SI] survey is cutting edge because we weren’t finding anybody else who was applying both public health and public policy to these kinds of issues,” said Carmen Llanes Pulido, executive director at GAVA.
Using a multi-dimensional survey model, the team gathered data that would produce a “kaleidoscope of data briefs that explore topics such as health, generosity, transportation, and climate hazards” to showcase trends in the Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to Jessica Jones, a dual degree Master's student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the School of Architecture.
"This is the first time throughout the A2SI data collection process that a partnership with a community nonprofit led to such a specialized and empowering data collection effort,” said Jones. “Based on this rich community engagement work, I was really excited to see emerging trends arise from the 78744 and 78753 zip code data collection.”
In their work as “a coalition of neighbors and community partners breaking down barriers to healthy living and strengthening neighborhood stability,” GAVA focuses on neighborhoods in Austin’s Eastern Crescent, including most of the 78744/45 zip codes in the south and parts of the 78753/52/58 zip codes in the north.
Pulido explains that GAVA focuses on these zip codes not only because of the chronic disease disparities and other inequities residents in these neighborhoods experience, but also because of the “assets and strengths of these areas in terms of potential to organize.”
Leadership at GAVA knew that zip-code-level disparities among health indicators in different areas of Austin were common but were rarely ever captured in traditional survey frameworks. Previous surveys found positive population health outcomes as a result of GAVA’s programming, but variables like severe flooding, gentrification, and increased cost of living were often omitted.
“None of the things we knew were happening in the community were really part of the measurement of our impact,” said Pulido. The team at GAVA spent a year developing new indicators for enhanced survey questions with the A2SI research team incorporating feedback from community members to shape the questions that would be used to examine how indicators like health, social connectedness, and climate resilience interact with each other in interconnected ways.
Their pursuit of a multi-dimensional survey method eventually led them to Dr. Patrick Bixler, assistant professor at the LBJ School and principal investigator of A2SI. Dr. Bixler enlisted the help of Jessica Jones and Auva Shariatmadari, an undergraduate intern from the Moody College of Communication.
“Although my education at UT Austin focused on political communication, the skills of statistical analysis, graphic design, and public relations played a crucial role in designing and creating this brief in conjunction with GAVA," Shariatmadari said. “No education goes to waste when it comes to the real-world application of such knowledge, as the more multifaceted you are, the more set up for success you and your team will be.”
The data gathered comes from a random sample of about 300 residents in the two zip codes and was funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Not only is it rare for a survey to examine indicators in a multi-dimensional framework but working zip-code-level data is also unique. Historically, A2SI has captured data by zip code; however, they hadn’t focused on over-sampling specific zip codes until the 2020 survey. Existing data sources often provide only national or state level data, but more localized data sets are hard to find, explains Nika Akhavan, deputy director at GAVA.
“Trying to differentiate issues identified in our communities with the trends in Austin at large is hard,” Akhavan said. “We hope these data briefs can be utilized as advocacy tools in showcasing to community stakeholders where to better invest in our city.”
Topics covered in the brief include support from neighbors for a healthy lifestyle and whether residents feel safe to walk at night in their neighborhoods. According to the brief, respondents in the 78744 zip code showed higher rates of agreement to helping their neighbors connect to resources, when compared to the rest of the city of Austin. Pulido is especially passionate about the topic of neighborhood cohesion and stability.
“Connecting people enables them to address a whole myriad of issues,” Pulido said. The issue of isolation within communities has been one she’s been interested in studying for years and she explains that there can be a lot of interesting research questions to come out of examining what makes people feel isolated, in addition to a pandemic.
“It’s so big and feels like a behemoth, how do you change it, how do you confront it?” Pulido said. “But for us, it’s worth taking on, because it’s our lives.”