3 Ways to Teach Data Skills in Your City

November 7, 2017 7:43 am PST | Data as a Service

How can governments work to encourage data literacy in their employees and throughout their community? In Metro Nashville and Kansas City, Missouri, two Chief Data Officers — Robyn Mace of Nashville and Eric Roche of Kansas City — are tackling that challenge by turning to their local tech communities, developing internal training programs, and partnering with journalists.

In a presentation at Socrata Connect, Socrata’s annual customer summit, the two CDOs shared details on their data-literacy goals and strategies for achieving them.

1. Encourage Community Experts to Share Their Knowledge

All too often, cities suffer from brain drain, where top minds at local universities leave to find jobs elsewhere. Not so for Nashville, the “Athens of the South.” Each year, 17,000 students graduate in the metro region, and of those graduates, 10,000 stay. Robyn Mace, Metro Nashville’s CDO, describes it as “brain build,” and it means the region has a wide range of experts available to lead data sharing and data development exercises.


“Volunteers want to use their skills to solve problems and make the metro area what they want it to be. And, they want to have fun, too.” —Robyn Mace, Metro Nashville’s CDO


“Many people in the civic and tech community want to volunteer,” says Mace. Organizations such as Code for Nashville and Code for Democracy are eager to increase data literacy in both the government and community. “Volunteers want to use their skills to solve problems and make the metro area what they want it to be. And, they want to have fun, too.” During tool trainings, monthly hack nights, and directed data product development volunteers have an opportunity to share their data knowledge with fellow residents as well as government employees.

With these exercises and training events, says Mace, the goal is to save time, reduce redundancy, and ultimately target more complex problems. “We also want to find mechanisms to enhance the ability of our employees to perform, along with enhancing the abilities of employees and citizens to judge performance,” Mace adds.


2. Promote Data Literacy Through Data Journalism

One of Metro Nashville’s open data portal super-users is a data journalist, says Mace, and the city is eager to engage with even more journalists. Ideally, more members of the local media would be comfortable using the data available on the portal to power news stories.

Currently, Metro Nashville is developing a curriculum and hoping to run bootcamps around specific community issues such as healthcare and housing.


3. Create Internal Training Programs

In Kansas City, the priority to spread data knowledge throughout government was precipitated by a government-wide survey revealing that one-third of employees didn’t see opportunities for professional growth. That was a worrisome finding, says Eric Roche, the city’s CDO.

But, it was also an opportunity for the Office of Performance Management to share knowledge through internal training. As a first step, the Office of Performance Management held a three-hour session, along with Code for America, on creating effective government forms to collect information. Some key tips that emerged during the session: prioritize the customer experience and avoid collecting data that won’t be used.

This first training event was a success. “We’d gotten our feet wet with form design, and wanted to develop something larger,” says Roche. That’s how Kansas City’s Data Academy, an internal training program, launched. Although the training was open to everyone, the Data Academy targeted intermediate users, or Excel users, who were comfortable with pivot tables.

In four meetings, happening monthly for three hours at a time, the Data Academy covered:

  1. How to ask data-driven questions, and select datasets that will help you answer them
  2. The basics of data analysis, from histograms to pivot tables, with an emphasis on real-life applications for the methods within city government
  3. Advanced data analysis tools, such as decision trees and clustering, that aren’t necessarily used in city hall routinely, but are important problem-solving techniques
  4. Data presentation tools, and how to create stunning and informative visualizations

Throughout the training, Roche says, we pushed attendees to not just analyze, but tell a story. “We wanted them to take that next step, and ask ‘What is the data really saying? What are the policy and service delivery implications?’ We wanted them to be able to present that to their boss and give them options.”

In both Nashville and Kansas City, a goal of data literacy initiatives has been to create a network and community around data. Meetings in Nashville have led to collaborative opportunities between departments. Access to data, and insight into how to use it, is empowering for employees. It removes the need to ask HR for permission to access data or to reach out to IT to write queries. “The data is available for them to use to solve problems,” says Roche. “Through the Data Academy, we gave them additional tools and abilities so they can further leverage the data, which allows them to get to work.”

Get More Tips for Teaching Data Skills in City Hall

Watch the full presentation from Robyn Mace and Eric Roche for more insight into how these two cities have leveraged internal resources along with non-governmental tech communities to spread data literacy to government employees.



Reserve Your Seat at Next Year’s Socrata Connect

Registration is open for Socrata Connect 2018, taking place in Austin from May 16-18. Our annual customer summit is an opportunity to learn from your peers and thought-leaders in the data world, and take back practical information that can help your own government’s data initiatives.

Save your seat today for 20 percent off the ticket.

Previous ArticleGriffith Park Observatory - Los Angeles
Data as a Service
USC Empowers SoCal Community with Quality of Life Data

November 9, 2017

Next ArticleFort Lauderdale Beach
Data as a Service
4 City & County Leaders Share Performance Management Tips

November 3, 2017