Editor’s Note: In June 2018, the Association of Public Data Users (APDU) announced its selection of PRB’s interactive feature Declines in Adult Death Rates Lag in the U.S. South as the winner in the Private Firms category of its 2018 APDU Data Viz Awards. The award recognizes the feature for its effective telling of a data story. Mark Mather, associate vice president of U.S. Programs at PRB, provides some insights into the thinking behind this award-winning interactive feature.

Since I started working at PRB—almost 20 years ago—the amount of data available seems to have grown exponentially, along with the number of organizations and individuals reporting on the numbers. So much information is out there that it can be difficult to separate the facts from the fiction. For me, this is what makes PRB’s work so important. We bridge the data-policy gap by making the latest demographic data and research accessible to decisionmakers.

One of the ways we make demographic data and research more widely available is through data visualizations. For example, we recently created a series of interactive charts and maps to show that even though Americans are living longer, declines in adult death rates are not evenly distributed across states. PRB created this online tool in partnership with the Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging and Dr. Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the University of Maryland, with funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

In a recent blog post, John Haaga, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at NIA, notes that this regional disparity in death rates “predates the opioid epidemic, having persisted for decades, through multiple presidential administrations, health policy changes, and changes of power in Congress and in state legislatures.”

What can be done to address this issue? Making the data widely available so that decisionmakers understand the scope of the problem is an important first step toward finding solutions. To that end, the Population Association of America is organizing a Congressional Briefing on April 9—in partnership with PRB—to inform policymakers and their staff about key trends in health and life expectancy among older Americans. Activities like this briefing and resources such as PRB’s data visualizations are essential to bridging the data-policy gap.