Illustration by JoElla Carman for the Urban Institute

Like a growing number of organizations, the Urban Institute maintains a style guide for data graphics. This guide specifies almost a dozen elements that should appear on charts, like axis labels and source lines. After recent discussions about a check list to help the blog team review charts and get them ready for publication on Urban Wire, I realized the guide says a lot about how and what the chart creator should do but very little about why. And there’s nothing like understanding why something is being done to align a team around the hows and whats.

With that in…

Illustration by Cheri Marshall for the Urban Institute

At the Urban Institute, we’ve been working for more than 50 years to produce evidence-based economic and social policy research. A good portion of that research is available on our main website,, which launched in October 1996, but a significant portion pre-dates the website. Up to now, older research has been available only in paper form. When we moved our office to 500 L’Enfant Plaza in 2019, we cleared out a lot of paper. But in the spirit of Marie Kondo, we wanted to save the publications and papers that sparked joy. …

Illustration by Cheri Marshall for the Urban Institute

Lessons Learned from Exploring the Landscape of Landlords in the Twin Cities

In North Minneapolis, renters living in single-family homes owned by real estate investment trusts and private equity firms reported poor housing conditions, unexpected fees, and unresponsive management staff. Many of the tenants are also preparing to fight eviction filings from these owners that they worry will follow the end of state and city eviction moratoriums passed during the COVID-19 pandemic. These tenants are not alone. Having an investor or corporation as a landlord has become increasingly common, with nearly 40 percent of all rental units nationwide owned by anonymous shell entities.

Researchers, housing advocates, and politicians aiming to promote equitable…

Illustration by Cheri Marshall for the Urban Institute

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted how the Urban Institute engages stakeholders, policymakers, and the public in our events. More than a year ago, Urban’s events team quickly pivoted and restructured in response to work-from-home mandates. With a deluge of Urban research and analysis on how the pandemic was reshaping our world, we hit the ground running, hosting important conversations on how changemakers and leaders could respond the pandemic — all in a virtual setting.

Although we had hosted webinars before, Urban had switched to Zoom from GoToMeeting only one month before to the shutdown in mid-March…

Illustration by Rhiannon Newman for the Urban Institute

Over the past year, journalists and researchers have found creative ways to analyze and visualize COVID-19 data, including trends on infections, deaths, and vaccinations around the world. But getting, cleaning, contextualizing, and visualizing COVID-19 data can be challenging because it’s hard to know where to start.

Our small team at the Urban Institute partnered with the data visualization consulting firm HealthDataViz to collect COVID-19 vaccination data and create a daily updated public Tableau dashboard that allows users to explore vaccination trends across the United States. But we didn’t want to simply re-create others’ interactive dashboards and visualizations, especially the excellent…

Illustration by Anna Minkina/Shutterstock

Data management and quality assurance is key to delivering rigorous and reliable policy analysis. The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center uses multiple property records data sources, including Agency Mortgage-Backed Security data and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, to study structural barriers homeowners of color face. Our data science team aims to support the Housing Finance Policy team, and all Urban researchers, in building a robust data quality assurance system, which makes quality checks automated, iterative, and fast.

Before statistical analysis or building machine learning models, cleaning data can take up a lot of time in the project cycle. Without…

Illustration by Rhiannon Newman for the Urban Institute

The State and Local Finance Initiative (SLFI) at the Urban Institute works with state policymakers across the country on tax and budget issues. However, understanding how a state brings in revenue and funds expenditures is impossible without considering a state’s demographics, its economy, and its leaders’ priorities. This context comprises countless data points spanning numerous sources, as well as qualitative analysis on a state’s politics and history, repeated for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia).

To meet this challenge, SLFI used R Markdown to publish its State Fiscal Briefs in January 2020. We built upon best practices established…

Illustration by Peregrina/Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented extreme challenges to families and children facing elevated levels of food insecurity. Understanding nutritional need levels is important for local and federal policymakers to determine where, when, and how to provide support to families. But getting a handle on these needs has been made difficult because of a lack of data to compare to the prepandemic period and to examine changes during the pandemic. …

Illustration by Irina Strelnikova/Shutterstock

Last year I, along with a few colleagues from the Urban Institute’s Technology and Data Science team, participated in a Data@Urban digital discussion about women in tech. Though the topic was obviously broad, we felt that our perspective — as women working in technology at a nonprofit institution — was unique and could help continue an important dialogue. We discussed the inclusionary and exclusionary aspects of tech as they relate to women, unequal pay, gender bias, and more.

A few months before this event, on International Women’s Day, I was part of a similar conversation with women leaders in tech…

Illustration by On Lollipops/Shutterstock

Last year, we announced our collaboration with the Cloudera Foundation to accelerate our progress toward a vision of providing free and open access to high-quality education data for a diverse set of stakeholders pushing for change. Our long-term goal is to make it easier for people to use data to inform decisionmaking and hold decisionmakers accountable.

Thanks to the financial, technical, and software support of the foundation and its top-tier engineering experts, and generous product donations from Cloudera, Inc., …


Data@Urban is a place to explore the code, data, products, and processes that bring Urban Institute research to life.

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