Local Policy Database Scan

In early 2013, IPHI formed a collaboration with the Mississippi Public Health Institute and the Texas Health Institute  to investigate the current state and uses for local policy databases in community health.  The collaboration, led by IPHI, used an iterative approach to conduct the scan, using the Institutes’ expertise, advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Network of Public Health Institutes, and subject matter experts to define the scope of the scan and test it against our consultants’ model policy databases.

The collaboration executed 28 key informant interviews with subject matter experts and two online assessments of 250 potential users and database stewards. This data collection confirmed a lack of any comprehensive national-level database containing local, healthy communities’ policies and proposed conditions under which such a system might be created. The project found that existing local policy databases differ in focus, structure, detail, accessibility and comprehensiveness because of the siloed nature of project funding, the absence of any central coordination, and the lack of standards for healthy community policy databases. While databases exist across a variety of healthy communities’ topic areas, no single database addresses them all, and not all public policy areas for healthy communities are addressed in existing databases. While the definition of healthy communities is evolving, most current policy databases do not reflect the increasing interest in quantitative analysis and policy impact, or the increasing emphasis on public health systems and social determinants of health.

Key Findings:

End-User Environment

  • Policy database users can be categorized into two groups: 1) practitioners and policy makers and 2) researchers.
  • Users are interested in a well-maintained, accessible local policy database.
  • Users are interested in indicators of evidence base and evaluative measures.
  • Existing databases may provide a foundation for a local policy database model.
  • Some end-users are willing to pay for access to a local policy database that meets their needs.

Policy Database Environment

  • No comprehensive policy database for healthy communities was identified.
  • Existing database structures are very diverse and inconsistent.
  • Databases have been developed in a siloed fashion.
  • Policy databases include some common descriptive elements that can be standardized and others that are topic-specific.
  • Database maintenance and governance is a major challenge.
  • There is no standard for routine local policy database external evaluation.
  • There is no consensus on who should host a comprehensive local policy database.

The final report included recommendations to create a forum and process for establishing standards and common criteria for policy databases, and leverage desirable features of existing databases and tools.