Memphis Unveils Innovative Open Data Hub

January 09, 2020 by Melissa Crowe

Memphis Unveils Innovative Open Data Hub

Photo credit: Sean Davis/Flickr

Whether it’s forecasting infrastructure needs or routing 311 requests, there is a mountain of reasons why local governments want to use their data.

Employees at the city of Memphis take the principle of “data-driven government” seriously.

What Works Cities recognized Memphis in 2019 as a leader for its data work, awarding it a silver designation in the Bloomberg Philanthropies government program.

“We know using data and holding each other accountable is the best way to achieve our goals,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in a statement. “It improves the public's faith in government not only by improving service but by showing them the data. Even when the data is not good, it improves faith. And I think in Memphis in particular, but throughout the country, we must restore faith in government.”

‘Everything we do is data-driven’

Memphis launched a state-of-the-art internal data-sharing program in October 2019, powered by Socrata Connected Government Cloud, to better use data as a strategic asset.

“We’re trying to identify potholes and blight before they become potholes and blight,” said Craig Hodge, director of the Office of Performance Management. “We use data for everything — how we pick up trash, save animals at the shelter, improve code enforcement, and answer 911 calls. Everything we do is data-driven.”

The office of performance management uses dashboards built with Socrata as the backbone of a monthly performance review. Based on what the data shows, the team can make tweaks and changes to operations for the services provided with the goal of providing more efficient — and effective — services.

While city employees have new insights at their fingertips with Socrata, Hodge and the mayor are pushing for an increased level of transparency to offer the same insights to residents.

“We’re a data-driven government, and it goes in-line with transparency,” said Ursula Madden, the city’s chief communication officer. “We’re going to be as transparent as we possibly can about the services we provide, how government works, and what’s going on in the community.”

The right platform for the public

Memphis approaches data with a simple standard: It will be open to all users unless there’s a statutory reason for not doing so.

The city launched an open data site in 2018 with the focus of communicating data on the city’s strategic goals.

In October 2019, Memphis unveiled a new open data hub to much fanfare, with stories in GovTech and several local Memphis news outlets. The comprehensive site gives the public access to review performance dashboards, including data from code enforcement via Socrata Citizen Connect, the police department, and the capital improvement program. They can drill into interactive maps, identify trends, and see real-time crime information.

“Reporters have been asking for this data for a long time,” Madden said. “We’ve finally found the right platform to share it with them.”

What’s more, the city takes its approach to transparency a step farther by providing clear context through data storytelling and narratives. This feature means anyone, regardless of technical abilities, can understand the meaning behind the data.

As Memphis’ internal data sharing program gains momentum, the communications team is spearheading an effort to release even more data to the public. And, users can submit suggestions for data sets they’d like to see added to the hub.

“Open data is an outgrowth of the information that the administration uses to improve services,” Hodge said. “And now it’s also available to the public.”

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