Economic Innovation Group
Bringing together innovators from across the aisle and both the public and private sectors, EIG brings fresh approaches to tackling some of America's biggest economic challenges.
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Bringing Geographic Inequality into Focus
Founded in 2013, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) combines research and data-driven advocacy to address America’s most pressing economic challenges. Drawing from both sides of the aisle, EIG brings together leading entrepreneurs, investors, economists, and policymakers to work together to advance creative policy proposals that will bring new jobs, investment, and economic growth to U.S. communities. Their founders include Sean Parker, Ron Conway, Dan Gilbert and other marquee leaders from multiple industries throughout the country. Through their Distressed Communities Index, EIG gained notoriety for shining a spotlight on the issue of geographic economic inequality, which went on to play out prominently in the 2016 election.
Drowning in Data
The initial challenge was one that faces many of our clients: They have a LOT of data, and all the insights are there… but more people need to access and understand this issue. EIG was a particularly robust example: through their ongoing research, they used census data to build an index of seven indicators to represent the economic health of local communities across the United States. The stakes for this project were also high due to an upcoming piece of Federal legislation: The Investing in Opportunity Act (IIOE). The team was faced with these two challenges simultaneously: (1) What can be done to make a mountain of economic data interesting for as broad an audience as possible, and (2) What will simultaneously enable policymakers to explore and engage with the topic.
The data set that EIG had created was remarkable. Among 800,000 data points lay the intimate economic details of communities from coast to coast, down to the zip code level. This information could also be sliced further to create insights for states and (most relevant for the Hill) congressional districts. All this data was producing fantastic insights...but without a beautiful means to let EIG users access and interact with it, all the hard research work could have been wasted.
"When I was Chief of Staff at Google Maps, I spent a lot of time with the founder of Google Earth, Brian McClendon, and he said something that really stuck with me: 'I’ve seen it thousands of times: whenever someone opens Google Earth, they go straight to their home. It grounds them. It validates the tool, so they feel empowered to go explore and learn about the rest of the world.'
Making Geographic Inequality Accessible
We considered a few different paths toward displaying this data, but mapping the Distressed Communities Index (DCI) quickly became the most exciting route. We saw the path to not only showcase the data with multiple different geographic boundaries but also create a simple green/yellow/red interface for users to quickly “diagnose” a region’s economic health.
With the LGND team’s background in mapping, one could assume that this project would be a walk in the park...but bringing the DCI to life was a deeply challenging project. With such a large dataset, our options for mapping technology tools were limited. As we begin to build prototypes, we promptly faced another concern: load time. Initially, we were told that getting this much data to load under a second (our baseline to consider the map usable) would be impossible. After a few different tries across multiple platforms, we landed on using Mapbox and the rest was history.
Spreading the Word
Running alongside the efforts for this tech build, we worked side-by-side with EIG and their public affairs team at Hamilton Place Strategies to identify and execute a strong launch plan. Contrary to Field of Dreams, our efforts to build wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that users would come. To guarantee the success of this product and the buzz for the bill it supported, we needed a comprehensive media and launch strategy.
Given the nature of the DCI to create local connections regardless of urban or rural contexts, a broad list of relevant social media influencers and outlets were collected. Further, we reached out to publications that would have an interest in the ongoing economic story that came through in the product, from those focusing on smart cities to the job impacts from automation. Finally, we relentlessly pursued an exclusive article to serve as the cornerstone of the campaign.
Our integrated technology and communications strategy paid off when we launched with our New York Times exclusive. Since that launch, the DCI map has been used more than a million times with over a thousand stories and spotlights from outlets across the nation, including NPR, AP, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, the Washington Post, Time, and more.
Further, the image of the DCI map, complete with its splashes of red, yellow, and green from coast to coast, became the iconic image of the Investing in Opportunity Act (IIOA), sponsored with bipartisan support by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congressmen Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and Ron Kind (D-WI).