Connecting Open Data to Decision-Making in Ramsey County

November 10, 2022 by Meredith Trimble

Connecting Open Data to Decision-Making in Ramsey County

Ramsey County, Minnesota’s open data initiative launched in 2017, but it was the COVID-19 pandemic that caused countywide efforts to dramatically expand. The data strategies that helped officials respond to the pandemic and support residents and business showed that providing clear, accurate, and comprehensive data helps stakeholders make quick, effective decisions.

According to Open Data Program Administrator Kristine Grill, “Ramsey County’s data program plays a central role in sharing clear and easy-to-understand data for residents, leadership, and employees. Each of these groups needs timely and accurate information to help make meaningful decisions every day.”

Data Stories and Dashboards

Despite having a small team, Ramsey County produced more than 20 data information products in 2020, including purpose-built applications, reports, and dashboards that provided timely, accurate, and transparent information. Following are just a few examples:

  • COVID-19 Situation Update: This dashboard provides COVID-19 case information, including information on demographics and location. The data was updated daily during the height of the pandemic, and is now updated weekly.
  • Respite and Hotel Homeless Shelter Dashboard: This dashboard provided an overview of the support Ramsey County provided through additional shelter space and respite for adults experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Property Tax Extension Eligibility Map: Early in the pandemic, this resource gave residents a visual tool to identify if they qualified for a valuable tax payment extension.
  • Social Vulnerability Map: This resource identifies areas with high social vulnerability as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This helps government officials predict and respond to external stresses that may disproportionately affect these areas.

“In some cases, like the tax extension dashboard or the respite and hotel homeless shelter dashboard, we were one of the first local governments to create interactive tools that reported on these topics — we did a lot of things really quickly,” said Grill. While not all of the 20 data information products are relevant to the pandemic in 2022, they served a strong purpose in 2020. Because of the efforts previously put in through Ramsey’s data program, they were able to quickly meet the needs of residents and government officials alike.

Internal Decisions Made Better

These efforts supported residents, but also strengthened internal decision-making. For example, Grill’s team utilized previously published financial data to help county staff understand COVID-19 expenditures. “Because we had done the groundwork and had a data platform handling this information, it was a matter of understanding how to use the data best for the problems we were facing,” she said.

Ramsey County continues to build upon initiatives launched elsewhere, including beach water quality reporting modeled after similar initiatives in Chicago. Water quality information is now embedded in the county’s beach information webpage, making it widely available to residents and visitors. “So if you’re not the data person who finds your way to the open data portal, you’re still getting the information you need to make an informed choice.”

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