How a Memphis Dashboard Saved the City 26 Analyst Hours a Month

January 03, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

How a Memphis Dashboard Saved the City 26 Analyst Hours a Month

Photo: Sean Davis/Flickr

If tomorrow, you could snap your fingers and do anything with your data, what would it be?

That's the question at the heart of Nick Walker's work as the Deputy Director of Parks and Neighborhoods and former Performance Data Manager, for Memphis, Tennessee.

At Socrata Connect he spoke with Jessica Carsten, Director of Client Success at Tyler Technologies, about Memphis' process to create a dashboard for the city's mayor. But, beyond dashboard development, Walker also discussed the need to have your driver be data — and not analytics or how it's presented.

"You need to have everything stacked on top of good data," says Walker. That includes solid quality control, quality assurance, and automated feeds that bring data into the source system. "It's like a house — it's got to be build on top of a good foundation.

Analytics-Driven Memphis

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, his 14 direct reports, and their deputies, meet monthly to discuss the city's performance metrics. Data and internal dashboards fuel the conversation.

Regular performance meetings are common in municipalities of all sizes. However, Walker notes that the way Memphis' dashboard delivers information is different. And developing that was not a simple task.

"To use the Edison example, there were a lot of broken light bulbs along the way," says Walker.

A successful dashboard would need to convey a massive amount of information and deliver it dynamically, but also be readily convertible to a PDF for distribution and archiving.

To achieve these three deliverables, Memphis uses a Socrata connector to port data into Google Data Studio, a free dashboarding program.

A process that once took two analysts two days to complete, is now down to six hours.

It also drastically reduced the volume of errors. Nearly all — 90 percent — of the data is uploaded through automated workflows, rather than being manually keyed into PowerPoint slides.

Now, the city's leadership has ready access to real-time, digestible information on the programs that make the city run. Walker's recommendation to other governments: focus your work on what you want to achieve — the problems you need to solve; the questions that demand answers — and let that drive your government's data strategy.

Watch the Full Conversation

Find out more about how Walker built the mayoral dashboard for Memphis. Plus, hear how L.A. is using data on the newly legal cannabis industry and how SODA helps the state of Michigan develop dashboards to track progress on cross-departmental programs.

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