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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.

Action Plan

Define success and establish standards

  • Prioritize essential community needs and services. Involve community members to define priorities, wants, and needs.
  • Define what data you need to inform both short-term decision-making and long-term city and infrastructure planning.
  • Perform a macro- and micro-level qualitative gap analysis. Based on where you want to be, how far off are you? At a city level? At community levels?
  • Identify potential data sources and target use cases to improve quality of life based on analysis. For example, data related to broadband or Wi-Fi availability, public open spaces, weather, and student populations could be used to inform provision of future educational services.
  • Create data quality standards and a method to evaluate quality, drawing upon industry guidance and national best-practices

Gather and assess available data and governance structures

  • Select the right geo-spatial platform that balances cost, ease of use, hosting, and the need for spatial analytics like routing or querying.
  • Identify available open data sets by sector.
  • Examples of community data include climate risk (flood / wind / fire etc.), household income, air & water quality, transit availability, mortality & health, public health services, greenspace, public safety, community demographics, access to education, etc
  • Deploy analytics to help identify patterns and inform decisions.
  • For example, sampling from water utility data could be used to inform public health conditions.
  • Conduct geospatial mapping to show heatmap-style gap analysis between goals and community reality
  • Identify potential causes of inequity and data bias—involve the community to gain more informed views
  • Identify gaps between policies and outcomes. What data or insights do you still need?
  • Evaluate current structures, policies, and procedures for data acquisition, storage, use, and sharing among city departments and stakeholders.

Procure additional data and create framework for integration

  • Outline methods to manage and fund data collection, evaluation and use.
  • Define framework for integrated data acquisition, storage, use and sharing among city departments and stakeholders.
  • Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate and prioritize data procurement based on the impacts and value to the decision-making process.
  • Identify data vendors or partners that can provide new insights such as cell phone carriers for privatized and anonymized cell phone data.
  • Create a decision-support tool to balance data availability, quality, completeness, and bias with potential impact.

Pilot integrated data-driven approach with a multi-disciplinary team

  • Create a community-facing data portal to open data access, communicate insight, proposed strategy, and status of deployment.
  • Visualize and communicate outcomes from using data to drive informed decision-making, including lessons-learned, best practices, and opportunities for improvement. Examples include community facing dashboards, web applications, reporting, and infographics.

Formalize integrated data approach and outcomes

  • Create City Data Governance standards.
  • Integrate collection, analysis and use of data into community plans, capital improvement programs, and service provision.
  • Develop and deploy robust communications plans and involve community partners.

AECOM Resources and Case Studies

  • Mobilitics
  • Stimulus Project Prioritization Process
Contact: Matt Harris