New Orleans Calls for Data Projects to Improve City

September 1, 2017 11:00 am PST | Data as a Service

The beads and carnival will always be unmatched, but New Orleans is not just a Mardi Gras city — it’s a data-driven city. The Office of Performance and Accountability’s analytics team, NOLAlytics, has opted for a proactive approach to solving the city’s toughest problems, soliciting requests for data-driven projects from city departments. By partnering with departments on these projects, NOLAlytics hopes to achieve three main goals: improved services, new insights, and the ability to work smarter.


“In order to scale the NOLAlytics program, we knew that we had to harness the creativity and capabilities of public employees to identify opportunities where analytics could provide value.” —Oliver Wise, Director of the Office of Performance and Accountability


Solving Real-World Problems with Data

Marrying the data skills of the analytics team with the insights and knowledge of individual departments can lead to a highly effective partnership. As Oliver Wise, the Director of the Office of Performance and Accountability points out, “In order to scale the NOLAlytics program, we knew that we had to harness the creativity and capabilities of public employees to identify opportunities where analytics could provide value.”


NOLAlytics submit problems


A page on the city’s website offers up a guide to analytics, along with the six categories of projects that NOLAlytics is eager to take on: 

  1. Finding the needle in a haystack
  2. Prioritizing work for impact
  3. Early warning tools
  4. Better, quicker decisions
  5. Optimizing resource allocation
  6. Experimenting for what works

For each of these categories, the analytics team shares examples of problems and potential solutions, case studies featuring real-world success, and details that help illuminate whether the project makes sense for a given department.


finding a needle in a haystack


Providing plainspoken background information encourages city departments to submit strong, doable data-driven projects. “By cultivating a cache of project ideas, we can strategically prioritize the project that will likely have the greatest impact,” says Wise. Already, the city has completed four projects, including an analysis of the effectiveness of traffic safety cameras and a code enforcement abatement tool.


A Successful Partnership: Targeted Smoke Outreach Program

One of the successful programs falls under the “finding a needle in a haystack,” category, which is devoted to targeting small, precise audiences. The New Orleans Fire Department offers free smoke alarm installation to all city residents, but going door-to-door isn’t an effective way to find at-risk households. The analytics team designed a model to prioritize areas of the city most likely to suffer fire fatalities and least likely to have a smoke alarm.

The model used data collected from the American Housing Survey, American Community Survey, Census, and New Orleans Fire Department Administrative Data to pinpoint the areas most in need.


new orleans fire risk map


From there, the analytics team was able to construct maps to help firefighters determine which communities and residences were most in need of outreach to prevent fire-related fatalities. According to the case study, this resulted in homes needing smoke alarms being found at twice the rate of random door-to-door outreach. As a result, city resources were used more efficiently and effectively towards preventing fire-related fatalities and accidents.


How You Can Get Started

The success of New Orleans’ NOLAytics teams is proof that leveraging analytics is a great way to drive innovation and efficiency in any city. So, why not yours? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Be goal-oriented: Share the goal of using analytics and how it can support city departments and services. A mutually beneficial program is more likely to gain the support and participation of everyone involved.

Spell it out: Be clear about the kinds of analytics projects you want to take on to support your city. Do you want to focus on making faster decisions? Or maybe improving early warning tools? Regardless of what you want to focus on, clearly spell it out and give examples to illustrate your goals.

Ask for help: One of the great things about the NOLAytics team is their open invitation for analytics projects. Follow their lead and encourage other departments to submit project requests to best target your city’s needs.


NOLA project pitch form

Note that the pitch request form — like all aspects of the NOLAytics’s page — is written in jargon-free language. Along with establishing clear parameters and goals for projects, this helps encourage staffers to submit their ideas.

Of course, any request for data-driven projects rests on the ability of departments to readily access and understand data about their city. If you’re eager to implement a data program, Socrata can help. Reach out to our team at Socrata. Send us an email. We’d love to talk about what’s possible.

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