Cover: Identifying Communities of Interest Using Contact Graphs

Identifying Communities of Interest Using Contact Graphs

Published Apr 8, 2024

by James Syme

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A community of interest is generally defined as a territorially contiguous community of people with distinct, shared interests worthy of representation in a legislature. Preserving communities within voting districts gives communities the power to form voting coalitions, self-determine needs, and effectively organize and engage with their political representative. However, map drawers, community advocates and NGOs, and researchers face extensive problems identifying these communities, hindering community representation and academic research. I introduce a systematic method for identifying communities of interest using contact graphs and community detection algorithms and evaluate this method using three datasets: (1) 2020 Census population counts, (2) Census population estimates from the 2016-2020 5-year American Community Survey, and (3) cellular device geolocation data from four separate months across nearly 2 years. I explore and discuss validation, calibration, and use cases for these graphical communities before discussing policy implications, recommendations for use, and avenues for future research.

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This document was submitted as a dissertation in December 2023 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in Public Policy Analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Benjamin Nyblade (chair), Nidhi Kalra, and Jonathan Welburn.

This publication is part of the RAND dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.