How LA's Controller Brings Data to Life

September 18, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

How LA's Controller Brings Data to Life

Photo credit: joey zanotti/Flickr

There was a time in Los Angeles history where fewer than half of the city's police divisions had a domestic violence response team. The city's domestic violence programs were underfunded, disjointed, and inconsistent across neighborhoods, according to an audit released in 2015 by City Controller Ron Galperin.

That's when he realized data could help.

"My goal is to not just get out information, but to drive a change in policy," Galperin said.

His team mapped a year's worth of domestic violence reports to show the public how prevalent the crime is, in all neighborhoods across the city.

"We all have an incentive to try to do something about it," he said. "Today we do have a domestic abuse response team in every police division."

The Three Ts

Governments generate terabytes of data daily, from utility meters to air quality testing, and everything in between.

Galperin's mission is to bring that data to life.

During a recent presentation at the National League of Cities City Summit, Galperin shared his perspective. The presentation discussed how data leads to better outcomes, how to identify challenges in data-driven decision making, and what strategies have successfully built a data-centric culture.

Galperin focused on The Three Ts: transparency, trust, and transformation.

"My goal is for the city of LA to be the most transparent city anywhere — that means put it all out there, warts and all," Galperin said. "I'm called the watchdog for the people's money ... but I'll be very frank. It's impossible to audit everything."

However, Galperin knows that through engaging other people — hosting hackathons, working with universities, and interacting with high school students — much can be done to learn from what they're doing.

"We're trying to do more than just look at numbers, but also how we present it," Galperin said.

Driving Change with Data

Impacting policy with data takes more than just pulling stats. Galperin finds ways to convey the message and information in a more succinct way, be it through social media, visualizations, video, and mapping.

This strategy empowers the public.

Los Angeles has 700 special funds, in addition to its general fund and others. Opening those up to public inspection, with 40 columns of data, and the name and contact information for the person responsible for the fund, has resulted in changes to get those funds spent, Galperin said.

"It empowers the community," he said. "It's one thing if you go to your council member and say I'd like to see an improvement in the park, and it's another thing if you can say, 'I'd like to see an improvement in the park, and by the way, I'd examine Fund No. X and there is an uncommitted balance of such-and such and the rules say it can be used for these particular purposes, how about it?' Boy does that change your ability to be an advocate in your community."

They mapped data related to cannabis, to procurement, and even airport noise, which proved that the age of the aircraft, not the number of passengers, contribute most to noise.

"We're able to drive changes in actual ways in which the city operates, and the kind of conversations that happen within the city and the community," Galperin said.

It's a transformation that's driving Los Angeles to examine how to better govern with data.

"It's about being at the forefront of the changes that are happening in our world," Galperin said. "Companies that used to be at the top of their game are now filing for bankruptcy. Technology has changed the game for all of us."

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