Meeting Local Health Departments’ Data Capacity Needs: Opportunities for Secondary Data Source Providers

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series September 2023

National organizations, federal agencies, and other entities that support local health departments (LHDs) with secondary data should center strategies that align with LHDs’ differing levels of data capacity and needs.

Local health departments (LHDs) use data with the intent to understand the issues and trends impacting the health of their community members. Accordingly, many LHDs rely on secondary data to inform their work. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health data infrastructure’s unmet needs became even more pronounced with duplicative and competing dashboards, fractured data systems, and limited local data analytic capacity. To better understand LHDs’ data needs, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) hosted a two-hour workshop with about 50 public health practitioners in July 2022. The workshop used a user-centered design approach with participants in self-selected small groups based on their perception of their agency’s level of data capacity. The participants designed, tested, and provided feedback about a prototype “data hub” based on their own unique context.

The workshop underscored that an LHD’s data capacity directly impacts their data access needs, with different behaviors, desired outcomes, and potential training and technical assistance needs. Thus, secondary data sources where LHDs are an intended user should incorporate these considerations into the design and support of their product.

What we found:

  • Read our article in JPHMP

    Limited data capacity LHDs rely on data to already be digested and easily accessible. They lack the internal resources to perform complex analysis or extensive data work. Additionally, these LHDs have limited financial resources, and thus can often only access free or low-cost platforms. Individualized ad hoc training and technical assistance would greatly benefit these LHDs.

  • Moderate data capacity LHDs focus on using data to benchmark their performance against comparable LHDs as well as target interventions on specific high-priority populations within their community. These LHDs highlighted the need for technical assistance around interpreting and applying the data to LHD work.
  • High data capacity LHDs use data to contextualize the health needs and outcomes of their communities. This group was focused on creating a data hub that offered interoperability and integration with other platforms including other sectors and qualitative data.

Read our article “Opportunities to Support Secondary Data Access Needs Among Local Health Departments” in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Jordan Royster, MSc, PMP, was a Senior Research and Evaluation Specialist at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and is currently the Senior Evaluation Manager at the Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI). Her work centers equitable evaluation in community-based public health projects.

Kellie Hall, MSOD, is a Lead Analyst-Evaluation and Data Communications at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

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