The coronavirus pandemic has increased the urgency for more timely, integrated, and accurate data at the city level. Data stored and used in silos has limited communities’ understanding of important interrelations between the built environment, public health, and social outcomes. Removing these silos will help us better understand and respond to people’s rapidly changing needs.
The power of data can be especially impactful when it comes to a city’s vulnerable residents. When cities master data capture and analysis, they have better visibility to who in the city they are serving well and who they aren’t. Not only that, data has been used by cities to prevent lead paint poisoning, increase kindergarten readiness, predict flooding and bridge problems, prevent violent crime, pinpoint rodent infestations, and reduce traffic accidents. Harvard’s Ash Center lists over 80 case studies of cities successfully using data to enhance city operations.
Despite the clear use case for data-based decisions, nearly 50% of city managers who applied to a program run by Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2015 reported having just started on the path of using data to help govern.2 Not surprisingly, many cities lack the resources and personnel to make data-driven decisions a reality. The University of Chicago’s Center for Data and Public Policy developed a maturity model which cities can use to assess readiness and take action to fill gaps, which can serve as a useful prerequisite to this action plan. 3 Additionally, in many cases data integration in cities is a challenge as each department is led and funded differently from the others. Data is captured, analyzed, and stored differently with separate contract support and there is generally little to no incentive to integrate across departments.
In a better normal, city planning, infrastructure design, and public service provision is informed by integrated data and technologies. By mapping communities with geo-spatial data behind comprehensive data sets, it is possible to see the interconnections of data and the relationships between them. The action plan below will help cities create a community map of integrated data sources on which to base decisions and improve quality of life for all residents.