• Empowering Local Government and Communities with Data

  • WorkNYCAffiarsAngelButel
    Public and Urban Policy alumna Angela Butel reflects on her research with the Center for New York City Affairs.

    Many of us want to make a difference in the world, but it’s often hard to know where to start. Angela Butel, a recent graduate of the Public and Urban Policy master’s program at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and  Environment, has viewed every step of her education and career as an opportunity to advance social justice — especially wherever her local community is concerned.

    Even before coming to The New School, Butel was an avid community organizer. Her first job after completing an undergraduate degree involved state-level advocacy related to housing, small business development, immigration, and human trafficking issues. Butel chose Milano for her graduate studies because she was looking for a program where she could continue social justice work while strengthening her data and policy analysis skills. “I wanted to be in a program that would teach me how to effectively create policy change, not just the way things work,” she says. 

    For an activist like Butel, Milano offered more than engaging coursework. During her second year in the program, she discovered the Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA), one of the university's oldest research organizations that works with local communities to uncover systemic injustices and hold public services accountable. Each year, CNYCA offers students the opportunity to join its staff as researchers. In these positions, students explore diverse research areas and work with external partners that range from the Department of Education to the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. According to CNYCA Executive Director Kristin More, student researchers are essential to the center’s advocacy work. “They conduct research and author reports that get covered by the press and are taken seriously by policymakers,” she explains. 

    After joining the CNYCA staff, Butel contributed to at least a half dozen reports, including several on child welfare in New York. One of her latest publications, "Data Brief: Child Welfare Investigations and New York City Neighborhoods," explores which city districts experience concentrated child welfare activity and which do not. “She’s a strong writer, data analyst, and project manager who is committed to social and economic change,” says Morse of Butel. Work like Butel’s is critical to providing community advocates with the data they need to push for changes to better support New York City families.

    Reflecting on her time at CNYCA, Butel says that one of the most important things she has gained is the ability to visualize and write about data for a general audience and not only statisticians. A significant part of her work is bringing people’s stories together with the numbers and presenting a cohesive picture. “It’s almost like a journalistic approach to the data,” she says. “It takes talking to people and understanding how they are affected. The numbers help you understand the stories, the stories help you understand the numbers.” 

    Beyond learning how to communicate effectively about data, Butel has also come to understand how interconnected policy areas are and how important it is to engage with real-world stakeholders. “You can't talk about housing policy in isolation from food policy and economic development,” she says. “It's never just theoretical. The center maintains a relationship with the policymakers who are using research to make suggestions.” This holistic approach to policy and opportunities to connect her learning to the real world prepared Butel for an effective career in policymaking. 

    After completing her tenure at CNYCA this summer, Butel will head to the West Coast, where she is currently completing a fellowship with the budget office of the City of Portland. Her responsibilities there will include advising city departments on how data can inform decision-making. “My work at CNYCA has had a huge part in preparing me for the fellowship in Portland,” says Butel. “I have had many opportunities to use data in really practical, hands-on ways and this has helped me gain much more facility with working with data—it’s also helped me deeply understand the importance of publicly reported data for holding government accountable.”

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