Data Lens Empowers Decision Making in Los Angeles, CA

May 26, 2015 2:00 pm PST | Data Apps & Visualization, Data as a Service

When Abhi Nemani started his role as Chief Data Officer for the City of Los Angeles, he quickly realized that there was a limitation on making data-driven decisions that went beyond just the numbers. “We did focus groups, and people asked the question of ‘What is data?’ […] People didn’t understand fully how all kinds of data connected together, and they didn’t know how to take advantage of the data.”

The City of Los Angeles was one of the first to preview and incorporate the new Data Lens tools from Socrata. Data Lens is a visualization platform that makes it easy for data managers to create and update graphical representations of their information, which in turn provide context for end users. Data Lens pages include bar graphs, maps, charts, and interactive filters that provide drilldowns and location-based results with a single click of the mouse.

“What’s great about the new Data Lens tool,” Nemani says, “is that it actually makes it more actionable for people who are non technical to understand what’s happening.”

Los Angeles Data Lens Video Screenshot

Data Lens Helps Make Informed Decisions

One of the first Data Lens pages that the City of Los Angeles established displays data on foreclosed properties. Users are able to quickly sort the information by date range or neighborhood, or even both at the same time. Properties can be sorted by single-family or multi-family, and a map displays the precise location of all applicable results.

Not only is this information useful for involved neighborhood councils, but it also helps provide context and additional detail for internal decision making. Nemani points out a strong peak in the forclosed properties graph in January, 2015. “You see a lot more here than in the rest of the year, so that may mean that in the winter season there’s more we need to do proactively to deal with foreclosed housing.”

Building permits is another very popular dataset, and Data Lens provides a high level overview of what is happening in Los Angeles. Nemani notes that there is so much data available about building permits that in most cases the raw data is just overwhelming and not at all useful. Data Lens displays building permit data by “card”, or filter, including type of building, date of permit, and permit type, which makes it easily consumable by reporters, researchers, and concerned citizens.

Los Angeles Data Lens Video Screenshot

Data Lens also includes more tools for developers who want to create useful applications using raw data, such as access to geoJSON streams. Developers can immediately plus this data into a mapping platform and create visualizations. “I’ve made maps from this in 30 seconds,” Nemani adds, “because the geoJSON data is right there. It’s a very powerful asset.”

Data Lens Engages an Audience

The Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, identified citizen engagement as a key area of focus, including the open data department. Nemani’s team set to work interviewing people about how they interact with open data. As a result they redesigned their portal and the changes included new Data Lens pages. The results have been remarkable. “[The bounce rate] now is about 4 – 5%, so you’re seeing a pretty dramatic change in the way in which people engage with and use the open data portal.”

Data Lens has created more compelling way for both government policy makers and community decision makers to gain insight from data. It can equally help a user allocate local government resources to prevent foreclosures or help a family decide where to move by showing which neighborhoods have the lowest crime rates.

In Nemani’s own words, Data Lens “lets people actually see the story of what’s happening”, and he’s excited to see how easy data-driven decision making can improve citizens’ lives in the future.

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