Meet the Dashboard: Benjamin Spoer, Manager of Data and Analytics

Jan. 16, 2019

Samantha Breslin

Benjamin Spoer

We're excited to introduce the City Health Dashboard's newest team member, Benjamin Spoer. Ben joins the Dashboard as our new Manager of Data and Analytics. He is currently getting his doctorate at New York University's College of Global Public Health and received his MPH from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in 2014.

CHDB: You’re joining the City Health Dashboard as you’re finishing up your doctoral program. Impressive! Can you share a little about your program at NYU and what you’ve learned from that experience that you hope to bring to the Dashboard?

BS: Thanks! My dissertation, and much of my research, has focused on using large data sets to answer important questions about local-level health processes. This has included working with GPS data, infrastructure maps, and different segregation measures, mostly at the census tract level. In short, I have been working on research similar to what the City Health Dashboard does for the past five years. It’s wonderful to be able to transition those skills directly into a project as exciting as the City Health Dashboard.

CHDB: You come to public health from a childhood obesity lens. Your MPH thesis focused on the need for more targeted, local interventions curbing obesity in kids. How do you think the City Health Dashboard can help assist in meeting this goal?

BS: My MPH thesis focused on creating mechanisms for identifying and disseminating effective interventions for childhood obesity. However, identifying these interventions will not help us if we cannot identify where these interventions are necessary. This is not as simple as identifying places where there are obese children; in the case of HIV/AIDS, interventions had to be tailored to individuals’ and groups’ different needs, wants, and cultural practices. An intervention that works for wealthy White people may not work for middle-class Asian people. The Dashboard provides the right combination of data to not only target these interventions, but to tailor them to their intended audience to maximize their impact.

CHDB: Your expertise is in geospatial analysis. This is a field that is becoming more and more popular, especially at local levels. Given your previous geospatial experience, can you walk through some of the ways you envision users harnessing the Dashboard’s current mapping features to better understand their city? What do you think the future looks like for geospatial analysis? BS: One of the big questions in geospatial research is about how we define neighborhoods. People probably don’t think about their neighborhood as the census tract in which they live, but we do not yet have good research on how else to measure ‘home.' Geospatial researchers are working on this now, and when they do, the Dashboard’s mapping features will allow users to think about ‘local’ in different ways, not only in terms of how city planning departments think of neighborhoods, but also what individuals understand their home neighborhood to be. This will in turn enable users to better tailor interventions to the geographic areas most relevant to their target populations.

CHDB: You also have experience as a journalist. One of our (many) goals is to not only be able to effectively communicate what the Dashboard is and how it can help drive change, but to make sure we’re getting our message into the right hands. What are some ways that you think we can leverage the power of media to help us accomplish this goal?

BS: In recent years ‘data journalism’ has been on the rise. Websites like 538, Quartz, and especially, The Atlantic’s City Lab, have taken an interest not only in what data can tell us about cities, but how we get the data to tell us these things. The Dashboard staff has expertise in both these areas, making us a natural fit for these publications. A few well-placed, interesting stories about how we measure city health, and what we do about it, can help get the Dashboard in front of the people who need it.

CHDB: You come on as the new Manager of Data and Analytics at a really key time for the Dashboard – we have updated seventeen of our metrics and plan to release ten more next month, we’re investigating new metrics to add that will enhance what is currently available, and we’re planning a redesign of the website to make it more actionable for our users. What are some of your goals as you start this new role? What do you hope to see from City Health Dashboard 2.0?

BS: I have three primary goals right now. First is to ensure our current metrics are up-to-date and meet our very high internal quality standard. Second, our data team is working to identify new metrics that are fun and exciting, and will also be helpful to our users. Third, I’d like version 2.0 of the dashboard to take better advantage of our geospatial data to help users identify where to target interventions, and at what problems. All the data necessary for this is already on the Dashboard, and I think we can make it easier to identify spatial patterns in that data.

CHDB: Finally, tell us something that will let us get to know you outside of your work experience and interests. Any interesting hobbies or talents? BS: My fiancé and I have three cats, Sputnik, Shmoopy, and Earl, so I spend most of my time taking cat photos. Also, after watching The Great British Bake Off, I have started baking bread every weekend.

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