About the Metropolitan Knowledge Network
The Metropolitan Knowledge Network was created as a collaboration between Portland State University’s Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, Population Research Center, and a group of expert advisors as a way to transform regional data into regional action. As the leaders and citizens of the Portland region work together to improve our quality of life, we need to assess the condition of this place and understand how it is changing. For example, we might ask the following questions:
- What kind of people live in the Portland Metropolitan Region?
- How is our population changing?
- How do we measure our economical prosperity?
- Is our human capital expanding?
- Are we good stewards of our natural resources?
- Is our population healthy?
- Are we investing in local cultural institutions?
- What issues worry us?
- What issues should worry us?
We created the Metropolitan Knowledge Network to provide a forum for exploring these issues while making clear information available to the general public. Citizens and leaders can turn to the MKN for information that is useful because it helps us understand the region we live in from a variety of perspectives. The MKN includes data about these important issues explained in a way that helps you understand how trends shape our region.
We will introduce the MKN in the style of a “Frequently Asked Questions” document.
Metro Knowledge Network “FAQ”
Who should use the Metropolitan Knowledge Network?
- Policy makers trying to understand the facts behind important economic and social issues;
- Researchers accessing datasets formatted in a consistent fashion;
- Nonprofits needing to articulate the need for and impact of their work in our community; and
- The Public trying to understand how trends are affecting their daily lives.
How do we define the Portland region?
We define the Portland Metropolitan region just as it is defined by the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA) for the Portland region includes seven counties: Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington, and Yamhill counties in Oregon, and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. This definition has changed over time, generally by adding counties as the region became more populous and economically integrated.
Don’t we already have access to more data than we can use?
Though there are many web sites that offer data developed for a specific use, accurate understanding of these data requires a significant investment of time and effort because these sites can’t provide narratives that put the data in context. Data should be viewed in the context of a geography, or in the context of an important trend, or in the context of efforts to help our communities. In short, data are only useful if they guide decisions about policies and programs that affect our future. At MKN, we try to provide the important context that promotes understanding of the issues illuminated by the data.
What geographical data is used in MKN?
The data available on MKN uses several different geographies: when contextualizing Portland within the United States, we use the MSA (“Metropolitan Statistical Area”), which includes both larger “Metrpolitan” and smaller “Micropolitan” areas. Excellent data is available at the level of metropolitan regions. Whenever possible, MKN includes data for Skamania county in Washington State to reflect the wider influence of the urban area and the greater integration in terms of commuting and employment.
(One should note that MSA definitions are regularly changed to reflect changes in the US population. From 1950 to 1983, the Portland Metropolitan area was defined as Clackamas, Multnomah, Clark, and Washington Counties. In 1983, Yahmhill county was added. In 1993, the PMSA of Portland gained Columbia county, and a greater “core-based MSA” (CMSA) was created that includes Marion and Polk counties. For a discussion of Census definitions of Metropolitan areas, see this page.)
When making comparisons within the local metropolitan region, MKN generally uses county level analysis. Counties are a convenient nexus of administrative data and reporting for public health records, vital records, building permits, business licenses, and the like. Counties also are the regional focus of state and federal employment offices and statistical reporting. Unfortunately, county boundaries do not reflect homogeneous populations and thus can give a false picture of local dynamics, since they were designed only with political needs in mind. However, their ubiquity in governmental organization makes them very useful for data analysis.
MKN also uses smaller geographies, especially the “Census Tract”, to give a sense of how certain measures differ across the region on neighborhood scales. This geographic level is especially interesting when comparing different parts of the Portland metropolitan area in terms of poverty, racial composition, and related measures.
How do I access the images?
We keep images and maps small when they are embedded in an article, but if you want to see larger versions of the graphs and maps on the site, simply click on them and a larger version will pop up on your screen; this image will disappear if you click on it. This effect is achieved through “Lightbox” technology, an open-source software library. These lightbox images can be copied to the clipboard and pasted just like regular images.
How do I access the data?
You can just look at the tables as presented in the article, but if you want to dig deeper to the full dataset behind the table, click on the table and a dialog will open. This dialog allows you to select particular views of the data, choosing which rows and columns to display, as well as choosing how to aggregate data.
Roughly, the process is as follows. The user selects a variable to use for choosing which rows display in the leftmost pull-down menu. The user chooses which column to sort the result table using the “Order by” drop-down, and which sort order to use with the “sort order” drop down (either ascending or descending). Then the user chooses whether to display the data as a table or one of many types of graphic (currently only “xy plots”). Click on “close” to close the widget.
This interface, called the “MQT” for Metropolitan Query Tool, may take a little bit of work to get used to, but it is extremely powerful, and we think somewhat revolutionary.
All the output from the MQT or the images can be cut and pasted into your documents however you see fit, though we ask you credit us.
How does the query tool work?
MKN uses a new approach to data interactive display based on Ajax technologies (the same technology behind Gmail) to make viewing images more dynamic and to allow users to customize the output. The articles themselves are fairly high-level analyses of social and economic dynamics. However, whenever there is more detail that supports this analysis, or views it from a different angle, or makes it more widely applicable, we make that data available through the MQT. This approach to disseminating data is different than other data providers, in that we embed the data in a narrative, explaining what the data might mean, whereas other providers allow you to browse data without any information about its importance or its implications.
The Query Tool also allows the user to graph data of interest, not just inspect tables. It uses an advanced style of statistical graphics called Trellis, developed at Bell Labs, that allows the user to quickly see trends, as well as efficiently compare many different subsets of interest. Trellis graphics was developed largely by William Cleveland, and his work on statistical graphics perception has inspired the graphics on the New York Times, among many others.
What kind of metadata do you store?
We store extensive metadata (“data about data”), including the source for the data, URLs and contact information, a description of what each column stores, any in-house formulas used to derive the data (for example, we might calculate poverty percentages by dividing the under-poverty population by the total population), and expiration dates for the data. This metadata is always available through the MQT, and it is also used to create “tooltips” and automatic captions in the articles. This system is expandable, so as more metadata becomes important we can easily include it.
Can you tell me about the database driving the Metropolitan Knowledge Network?
There is a lot going on behind each table displayed on the site, which is what makes the Metropolitan Knowledge Network so powerful.
The data on the MKN is stored in a database driven by the open source PostgreSQL database server, using extensions which allow it to run the R statistical package and the PostGIS package for geographic data. Each data table has a column which describes the time unit in which the measurement was taken and the spatial unit for which the measurement applies; typically these columns use years for time and FIPS codes for geography, but other units are possible. (For more on geography codes, see this page.)
When appropriate, we store supplementary information (like confidence intervals for the American Community Survey) along with the data. This way, they can be tabulated and graphed along with the more typical measures of central tendency.
Where does the MKN get its data?
The MKN gets the latest data available from a myriad of federal, state, local, and private sources.
Official statistics tabulations: most data comes from tabulations created by statistical agencies like the Bureau of Economic Analysis, county public health departments, and the US Census Bureau. We download these, adjust the formatting if necessary, calculate any additional columns, create metadata for them, and put them online.
Less official statistics tabulations: Sometimes MKN will distribute statistics that have been tabulated by non-governmental researchers, including private companies and independent researchers. Although we can’t validate the methodologies used to collect these data, we ensure that the data is consistently formatted and useable by lay-people.
Administrative records: sometimes, MKN will do its own tabulations from records, for instance lists of building permits, birth and death records, etc. When we do these custom tabulations, we will note our methodologies in the metadata as well as in whatever article they are appearing.
Who are the Metropolitan Knowledge Network advisors?
The MKN depends on a wide range of community and business people for testing and ideas. These include:
Will Garrick, PSU Office of Information Technology
Seth Hudson, Portland Development Commission
Paula Kinney, Park Academy
Pam Lesh, Portland General Electric
Megan McCarthy, Portland Development Commission
Dick Sadler, Dundee Fruit Company
Scott Stewart, Portland Multnomah Progress Board
Ray Teasley, Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments
Bob Vieira, Oregon Health Sciences University
Adriana Prata, Research Director, Clark County Budget Office
Mark Bosworth, Metro Data Resources Center
Christian Kaylor, Oregon Employment Department
Joe Cortright, Impresa, Inc.
Lynn St. Jean, Worksystems, Inc.
Who do I talk to for more information?
Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies