3 Cities Call on Data to Solve Civic Challenges

While many localities find themselves drowning in data, a few are using data effectively to drive real-world results.

For many governments, getting data is easy, but analyzing data to source actionable information is infinitely more difficult.

But with the help of technology, data analytics tools and public-private partnerships, government officials in three notable cities are putting their data to work.

1. Syracuse, N.Y., Taps Data to Prolong Infrastructure Life

The city of Syracuse, N.Y., has created a data analytics group to proactively maintain infrastructure and prevent issues from arising.

“What we have done is use data to … build algorithms to predict where infrastructure is going to break down so when we do spend our finite dollars to repair, we’re repairing the weakest links, if you will,” Stephanie Miner, mayor of Syracuse, said in a recent Governing podcast.

The city uses the data to preemptively repair water mains, roads, bridges and other infrastructure elements in the places where it is most necessary to ensure the city is making the best use of funds. The data also enables the city to objectively compare repair or maintenance treatments to see which is the best investment.

“Now with data, we can have apples-to-apples comparison and then we can look at the treatments we put on and we can say ‘Yes, this lasted through a winter at Syracuse’ or ‘No, this didn’t last through a winter,’” said Miner. “What it helps you do is make sure you are efficient and effective with the finite resources that you have so you can invest and extend the life of your infrastructure.”

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2. Washington, D.C., Launches Open Data Lab

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced a new data initiative that calls on data, researchers and data scientists to evaluate whether government projects are actually working, WAMU reported.

The Lab @ DC aims to tackle both large and small projects in the nation’s capital, such as improving the permitting process, exploring how the criminal code is used and evaluating the impact of police department body cameras.

“If you saw, for example, the number of uses of force being very different between the group of officers with cameras versus not, that would give you a signal that the cameras are actually causing that difference,” David Yokum, the lab’s director, told WAMU.

The Lab @ DC is located in the Office of the City Administrator’s Office of Performance Management (OPM) and connects researchers with several city agencies.

“It’s really groundbreaking work for us,” City Administrator Rashad Young told WAMU of working in the lab with data scientists, researchers, economists, psychologists and other specialists. “They have a set of skills that are uncommon in government.

3. Los Angeles Visualizes Data to Put it to Work

Los Angeles’ Chief Data Officer Lilian Coral was looking to leverage the city's data to forge a path toward digital transformation and smart city solutions, but she understood that data sitting in spreadsheets or on servers was unlikely to be useful to citizens or the city itself. So, Coral launched Los Angeles’ GeoHub, a public platform that allows residents and city workers to visualize, explore and download location-based open data.

“I like to use this graphic and visualization because our theory is that data by itself is not useful; it’s just an asset. Our goal is to convert that simple asset into wisdom and strategic thinking that the organization, the city of Los Angeles, as an enterprise, can really leverage,” Coral said during a recent webinar with Data-Smart City Solutions.

Once the data visualization portal went live, Coral said it became an invaluable asset where all parts of city government could come together to share data.

Already, the city is using the open data tool for several projects, including visualizing road obstructions for better situational awareness and quicker permitting. Another project looks to use GeoHub to better plan and evaluate city services themselves.

An example, Coral said, is the city’s ability to reduce crime:

We have a program within the mayor's office that's focused on the reduction of gang involvement by youth. What we've done is we've been able to marry our crime data with our grid team focus area — which is males between 10 to 25, low educational rate, high poverty rate, large violent crimes — and have used this information to inform summer programming. Now, post summer, the team can actually use this information and think through a before and after. How effective was it at impacting crime in those areas?

These services are just the start of what Coral calls “Open Data 2.0,” or a way to not just allow access to city data, but to really use it effectively.

“Ultimately the big thing here is about putting data to work and trying to drive more transformation across city departments,” said Coral.

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Nov 10 2017