Memphis Embraces Data to Improve Service
The ability to effectively harness and use data for community outreach, transparency, and decision-making is front of mind for city leaders. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that capacity has never been more crucial.
When Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland first launched a strategic plan that put data the heart of every decision, policy, and program, the goal was to boost transparency and accountability — both internally and publicly. Today, those efforts have positioned Memphis to access, share, analyze, and publish data analysis faster, more thoughtfully, and with more confidence than ever before.
Memphis has been hard at work laying the foundation, establishing guidelines, and inspiring city employees to make the shift toward a digital, data-driven government.
Like many government organizations, there was a time when Memphis’ data program was disjointed.
“Data-sharing is something we needed to catch up on,” said Craig Hodge, director of the Office of Performance Management. “COVID-19 has enlightened that too — with new partnerships with the county and health department. We need to seamlessly share data with different jurisdictions on different platforms and data capabilities.”
Early on in the development of the city’s data program it was difficult to inventory what data their city had, who owned it, how and when it was updated, and whether the data employees were using was up to date and accurate.
“Teams were sending around spreadsheets, or only one person could access the data from the source system,” said Sarah Harris, a senior performance analyst.
The typical process for leveraging data involved a combination of Excel tables, BI dashboards, and hardcopy reports. This approach triggered a time-consuming backlog that produced static reports and cumbersome documents.
With county staffing at an all-time low, the team faced a critical duty to “do more with less.” They needed a simple way to access and share data with stakeholders, which included 1.4 million residents. However, the system was at the root of several challenges, among them, the sheer volume of time to access information.
The city began a search for a robust data platform that could interact with all its source systems to build a true analytics program.
Convinced by Tyler Technologies’ proof of concept, the city selected Tyler’s Socrata Connected Government Cloud, an enterprise internal data-sharing platform, as their tool of choice. Socrata powers the city’s Data Hub, which launched in October 2019.
Data-sharing is something we needed to catch up on. COVID-19 has enlightened that too ... We need to seamlessly share data with different jurisdictions on different platforms and data capabilities.
Director of the Memphis Office of Performance Management
The Socrata data platform gives Memphis the ability to
- Centralize and codify data so decision-makers and line-of-business users can quickly and easily access data
- Provide internal security and permissions of data assets to ensure that the right people have access to the right data
- Automate data in near real time, so reports, KPIs, alerts, and decisions are based on a single and accurate truth
- Empower internal staff by arming them with visualization and mapping tools, contextualized reporting, KPI builders, and dashboards
- Incorporate with external tools, such as PowerBI, to maximize utility of data maintained in Socrata and integrate with SafeFME to automate the flow of data from source systems, such as Oracle, into Socrata
“Socrata not only provided a platform for the city to present its data to the public, but also met our requirements for internal use with the ability to automate data connections to different source systems, create an unlimited number of registered users, and restrict data to specified users and teams,” Hodge said.
The Memphis Data Hub gives 24/7 access to six main features: performance management, data stories, public safety, 311 calls, civic assets, and capital projects.
With this advanced internal data-sharing platform, Memphis can access data from source systems that were never designed to communicate with one another, clean and prepare the data, and automatically tap into the insights they need – without spending hours pulling data, recreating reports, and learning technical coding languages.
“This is really basic, but when someone has a question about wanting to see this data or that data, we now have a common place and an easy structure for them look,” Hodge said. “When they find the data, they are able to manipulate it and extract it.”
With a centralized hub for internal data, the city is beginning the process of busting the silos that previously prohibited collaboration across divisions. Furthermore, Memphis can drive more insights and interaction from their data than static Excel files could allow.
Socrata not only provided a platform for the city to present its data to the public, but also met our requirements for internal use with the ability to automate data connections to different source systems, create an unlimited number of registered users, and restrict data to specified users and teams.
Director of the Memphis Office of Performance Management
The city of Memphis has embraced data to improve the way departments communicate, make decisions, and collaborate.
Since launching the program in October 2019, which included the Memphis Data Hub, Hodge and the team have spread the value of data analytics to numerous city departments, including the fire department, housing and community development department, and human resources.
“These divisions are seeing the value of building up their internal data skills,” Hodge said. “The more we increase that, the closer we get to the ideal state of the city’s data program.”
Executive support has also played a key role in boosting data use.
“It enables us to do our job,” Harris said. “Without that support, you can get hamstrung. We don’t have the power to make policy changes or standard procedure changes. Having the leadership support has been crucial to us making an impact.”
As for the public, the response has been off-the-charts. Three months after launching the Memphis Data Hub, the site had more than 15,600 users and 137,000 pageviews.
“Through a targeted outreach campaign, we’ve been able to bring the data hub to neighborhood meetings, train librarians on how to use it, and collaborated with civic groups to host a Civic Data Hackathon in conjunction with Open Data Day,” Harris said. “Externally, the Memphis Data Hub has given us a tool to better communicate our work with citizens through the performance dashboard and data stories that explain how we use data in our day-to-day work.”
Visitors to the Memphis Data Hub can access performance dashboards with easy-to-understand color coding and story pages tied to each metric that give deeper context, additional data, and resources. They can also access maps through the Socrata Citizen Connect app to view trends and patterns related to crime incidents going back to 2006, service requests, civic assets, and the city’s capital improvement projects.
“By showing off the benefit of using data and that positive impact, and giving people a platform to share it with the mayor, we were able to change the culture,” Harris said. “It comes down to the saying ‘use data as a flashlight, not a hammer.’”