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Cascade: No. 67, Winter 2008

Good Data Drive Good Investment Decisions

The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a major community development financial institution based in Philadelphia, has developed PolicyMap for use by policymakers, investors, nonprofit and for-profit developers, foundations, and other civic investors. Cascade asked TRF to explain the product.

Why did TRF develop PolicyMap?

Maggie McCullough, director of PolicyMap at TRF, explained: “TRF has used data to target its investments and has been a frequent resource for public, private, and philanthropic investors seeking to refine their own strategies to preserve and rebuild vulnerable communities. We realized there was a new opportunity to get good data into the hands of more policymakers and the general public.”

What are PolicyMap’s strengths?

Launched in late 2007, PolicyMap is a web-based data analysis and mapping tool that makes it quick and easy to gather and analyze information. PolicyMap offers more than 4,000 indicators related to demographics, real estate markets, crime, health, schools, housing affordability, employment, energy, and public investments.

PolicyMap presents data from a variety of resources, including the U.S. Census, Claritas, FBI, IRS, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Boxwood Means (a value-added reseller of home sale data), and TRF. PolicyMap is reliable and accurate, with data compiled and scrubbed by data professionals at TRF who understand the use and limitations of the data. PolicyMap offers users a visually powerful way to convey data findings through maps, reports, charts, and tables, all of which can be saved and printed.

How does PolicyMap work?

PolicyMap is available to anyone with Internet access. The site, with its maps, charts, and reports, is viewable on any standard browser and does not require any additional software or plug-ins.

Users can enter a specific location or select a specific data indicator and zoom in on a map to a particular geography. Users can browse by address, census tract, city, county, state, zip code, school district, or political district.

While many of PolicyMap’s data are available to the public for free, other data, such as demographic and employment projections as well as home sales, are proprietary and available only to paying subscribers. Subscribers can also access reports and make use of more advanced functionality, such as drawing a customized region for analysis.

Premium subscribers can upload their own data into the tool so they can map their organizations’ investments. This allows investors to see how neighborhoods have changed in the places where they invest and to consider future investments. Subscriptions start at $2,000 per year for a single standard subscriber or $5,000 per year for a single premium subscriber.

Will this product allow different organizations to share data with each other?

For TRF, PolicyMap presents a great platform to share its own data and analysis, such as its Market Value Analysis (MVA). Premium subscribers can also use PolicyMap to share their own data. They send PolicyMap their data to be geo-coded and incorporated into the tool. Data owners then assign viewing rights, designating their data as available to the public, affinity groups, or only the owner’s organization. These organizational data can be viewed as point data against thematic maps.

Can you give examples of how subscribers are using PolicyMap?

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) uses PolicyMap to assist in the development of its overall housing policy and initiatives. PHFA analyzes data and maps its investments over a variety of demographic, labor, and housing markets, along with school quality data for Pennsylvania.

The Wachovia Regional Foundation uses PolicyMap for a variety of grantmaker needs, ranging from evaluating its planning grant applications to helping active grantees build their analytical and mapping capacity. “As a long-term, place-based investor, we are particularly interested in using PolicyMap to view our investments in a specific neighborhood in relationship to others by public, private, and nonprofit investors,” said Lois Greco, the foundation’s evaluation officer. “This PolicyMap feature offers the opportunity for truly collaborative partnerships between investors, where we can support and understand each other’s work in a way that creates maximum impact in a neighborhood.”

For information, contact Maggie McCullough, director of PolicyMap, at (215) 574-5800 or maggie.mccullough@trfund.com; www.trfund.com; www.policymap.com. External Link