Meet the Dashboard: Dr. Shoshanna Levine, Program Director

Dec. 5, 2018

Samantha Breslin & Miriam Gofine

We're excited to introduce the City Health Dashboard's Program Director, Dr. Shoshanna Levine. Dr. Levine graduated with a DrPH from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2018 and received her MPH from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in 2012. CHDB: You started at the City Health Dashboard as you were finishing your doctoral studies at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. You actually wrote your thesis about the City Health Dashboard. Can you tell us a little about your thesis?

SL: My doctoral program was a little different than what you might think of as a traditional doctoral program. It is a DrPH, not a PhD, and its purpose is to provide doctoral level training to public health leaders and practitioners, not necessarily academics and researchers. So for the thesis, instead of original research, students in the program work on an applied, field-based project and write about it. I was lucky enough to find the position with the City Health Dashboard team, combining my academic interests in urban policy and social determinants with a really practical, innovative project allowing me to gain leadership experience while indulging my inner data nerd.

For the thesis paper itself, I conducted a qualitative evaluation of the City Health Dashboard four-city pilot, interviewing the original NYU project team and partners, as well as representatives from Kansas City, KS, Flint, MI, Providence, RI, and Waco, TX to learn about the development of the project, how and for what cities had begun to use it, and what lessons could be learned from the pilot that would inform the scale up of the Dashboard to 500 cities. As the new program director, this academic project ended up giving me great practical insight to inform the development of the expanded site.

CHDB: A lot of the work you do consists of identifying opportunities to highlight the Dashboard’s potential to drive change across diverse disciplines. How do you view the Dashboard’s role in fostering cross-sector collaboration and bringing partners to the table?

SL: As someone trained in, and with a passion for, public health, you can give me discipline, and I can explain to you how it’s really just an extension of public health. Parks: people need a safe place to exercise and play. Housing: people need a stable, safe, affordable place to live so that they can thrive. Business development: a healthy workforce is a productive workforce; healthy employees have fewer absences, have less turnover, and are good for business.

I do know, though, that not everyone automatically thinks the same way. That’s why the Dashboard is so compelling. We’ve heard from public health people in our partner cities that they’ve been able to take the Dashboard data to potential partners outside of the health sector, show them, for example, that this neighborhood they’re focusing on with high unemployment on also has really high rates of obesity and diabetes, and get people thinking about how this driver is also having a significant impact on the health of residents. It’s able to turn on the light and get many people to see the connections between these issues in ways they haven’t before.

CHDB: Why is equity important to consider when addressing public health issues? How can the City Health Dashboard contribute to this work?

SL: Equity is at the core of public health. We cannot say that we are living in a healthy society if everyone does not have the ability to lead the healthiest life they are able. That means more than the idea that everyone needs health insurance (although universal coverage is also very important). We need a level playing field for things like safe and affordable housing, local schools and access to higher education, opportunities to get a good job, and other factors that we know have such a huge impact on peoples’ ability to be healthy. If some people are given a head start while others are held back, we will never be able to achieve our goals for improving health for all.

The City Health Dashboard can contribute in a few ways. We report three important measures of equity: income inequality, racial/ethnic diversity, and neighborhood racial/ethnic segregation. We also break down most of our measures by neighborhood, demographic group, or both. Being able to examine this data at such a local, granular level can help users define the issues, determine where the inequities are and where the greatest needs exist, and begin to work on closing the gaps between groups within their communities.

CHDB: You have lived in many places around North America – you were born in Canada, grew up in southern Florida, went to college in Washington, D.C., got your DrPH in Boston, and now live in New York City. How have your experiences in different cities informed the way you approach the CHDB?

SL: I think something I’ve really come to appreciate through living in and traveling to different cities is the profound effect of place. The characters of downtown D.C., suburban Boca Raton, historic Montreal impact and are impacted by the people who live there. I think that’s reflected in the ethos behind the Dashboard. Each city is unique and comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities, as well as beauty, quirks, and immensely proud residents. I’m excited to get more content up on the City Highlights page (a goal for the upcoming year) that provides the local context and flavor behind the numbers we present.

CHDB: As we approach the middle of year 2, and deepen our relationships with our various partners, how do you see the Dashboard evolving?

SL: There is so much I want to see from the Dashboard in the future! We’re lucky to have such a talented team that the possibilities are really endless. There are a few things at the top of the list, though. We’re hoping to start piloting site customizations for groups that want to dig deeper into the data we present – for example, adding several more housing measures on a separate but linked page for a multi-city effort to address safe and affordable housing. Or perhaps a city wants to see the measures broken down by congressional district instead of census tract. We’re open to anything and are excited about the creative ideas we’re developing with partners.

We’re also just starting to think about what kinds of research partnerships we can develop with others who are working in this space, growing the knowledge base around improving health and well-being in communities all around the country (and the world?)

Finally, we’re currently deepening and broadening our Take Action section of the site, hoping to make it more actionable and practical for users. We’d love to continue to grow partnerships with local experts to be able to point people to solutions that make sense for them.

CHDB: City Health Dashboard is situated in NYU School of Medicine’s Dept. of Population Health. How does this environment contribute to the Dashboard and how does the Dashboard contribute to this type of academic environment?

SL: We’ve really benefited from being situated in such a fantastic academic institution. Besides the exceptional skill of our own Dashboard team, we’ve had the opportunity to get input on measures such as housing and opioids, data visualization, web design, and many other aspects of the site from the vast array of experts on our campus. We’re really grateful for their contributions. We hope that, with the data we’ve now made public and accessible to all, we’re able to spark ideas for research and practice, in return, across campus.

CHDB: What has been your favorite aspect of working at the City Health Dashboard?

SL: I’ve loved getting to know our city partners and the places that they’re from. I’ve learned so much about Waco, Grand Rapids, Austin, Flint, and others beyond the data on the site or the stories in the news. Next up is getting to visit all of these places! I want to take City Health Dashboard on the road and really be able to connect what we’re seeing on the site to the work that communities are doing every day.

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