SNU Award Winners Spark New and Unique Data Achievements

May 31, 2018 9:06 am PST | Data as a Service

What’s new and unique in the world of government data innovation? A lot and it’s all so inspiring.

Leading up to Socrata Connect 2018, we asked all conference attendees to nominate government staff who are using cloud-hosted data in unusual and impactful ways. We wanted to recognize them with our first-ever Socrata New and Unique (SNU) Awards.

From across the country and around the world, we received success stories in finance, environmental protection, public safety, infrastructure, transportation, and health. We met to discuss the submissions and whittle our list down to three that covered a variety of data types and reflected some serious hustle and ingenuity on the part of the recipients.

Who were the fabulous winners? Let’s introduce you to them and to the aspect of government data-as-a-service we believe they exemplify best.

Socrata New and Unique Award Winners for 2018

Whitney Soenksen           

City of New Orleans           
Open Data Manager
Achievement: Making Data Useful

New Orleans, like other municipalities, is working to deal with the “sharing economy’s” short term rental (STR) industry. In late 2016, the City Council passed a controversial Short Term Rental ordinance. Then, in March 2017, New Orleans began accepting applications for STRs. They started issuing licenses in April 2017 and immediately made that application data public. After opening the data, the team in New Orleans realized that many NOLA residents, and others who were interested in the numbers, needed some context to understand what they were looking at.


New Orleans Short Term Rental Applications


Open Data Manager Whitney Soenksen used Socrata Perspectives to create an interactive page where people could examine Short Term Rental information more closely. This resource also allowed the New Orleans team to clear up some misunderstandings within the data.

Winning Idea: We liked how Soenksen and her team went beyond just publishing high-value data. They took the time to inform, educate, and empower citizens who want to put that data to work.

Melissa Bridges           

City of Little Rock           
Performance and Innovation Coordinator
Achievement: Connecting Data Silos

In July 2017, Little Rock launched a Citizen Connect site designed to serve both external constituents and internal teams. Led by Performance and Innovation Coordinator Melissa Bridges, they wanted the site to help everyone in Little Rock better understand the city services and issues that impact residents most.


Little Rock Citizen Connect Map


The site started with geo-data on city wards, police stations, and 311 datasets. Then, Bridges and her team went through a multi-month process of asking for feedback on the site from neighborhood associations. In response to the feedback, Bridges’ team added a police patrol district map and planning permit and housing land bank datasets to the site. Additional requests to add the unsafe/vacant properties to the housing dataset and active business licenses have been made and work is underway to get the information ready to publish.


“[Little Rock’s Citizen Connect site] helped reinforce the open data initiatives in the city and foster a sense of community.” —Melissa Bridges, Performance and Innovation Coordinator 


Additionally, the Police Department started using the heat map feature in their weekly COMPSTAT meetings. Bridges likes how the site makes data more accessible to people who prefer to see things visually, and they can filter to see just the information they want. “It’s helped reinforce the open data initiatives in the city and foster a sense of community. Additionally, it has added to the data literacy of the community,” says Bridges. Bridges also hosts presentations and hands-on trainings about the site.

Winning Idea: We liked the tremendous amount of initiative Melissa Bridges has taken to not just publish useful data to an interactive map. She’s facilitating multiple departments coming together and sharing their data in one place. Plus, she immediately sought feedback on the site from Little Rock residents to ensure the site was truly useful and continues to grow into a one-stop resource for residents.


Sherry Schoonover 

City of Topeka           
Deputy IT Director
Achievement: Single-Access Point

The city of Topeka, Kansas, has a lot of infrastructure projects in the works — over 170 at last count. With all this work going on, the city wants to make sure citizens know how their tax dollars are being spent, and city staff and executives can keep close track of the multiple types of data involved in infrastructure — vendors, spending, budgets, project timelines, and milestones. 

In 2017, Deputy IT Director Sherry Schoonover led an effort involving 30 representatives from 11 city departments to create a Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) project portal. The CIP identifies capital projects that include citywide infrastructure, equipment, street and traffic maintenance, quality of life, neighborhoods, utilities, and public safety.


Topeka Capital Improvements Projects


Schoonover went beyond just presenting the data to the public. She automated its delivery to the CIP. Schoonover set up a direct link from the project portal to the city’s project portfolio management application that is used by project engineers and also to project financial information from the city’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. With these systems in communication, the city now updates the project portal on a daily basis to provide the actual dollars spent and every detail on project progress.

With this incredibly up-to-date site, citizens and city executives are informed about the actual financial impact of infrastructure initiatives. The projects can be viewed by areas so visitors can zero-in on a specific zone or category. And, businesses can determine the length of a project to get a sense of how it could impact them.

Winning Idea: We liked how Schoonover went well beyond making data available on the capital projects site. She ensured that the data was the most up-to-date and accurate data available. She made the CIP the single-source of truth for all city infrastructure projects and has, by doing so, streamlined the many hours of work that goes into them daily.


A Lifetime Achievement Award for Austin’s Matthew Esquibel

Another award was presented on the stage at Socrata Connect. It wasn’t a SNU, it was a lifetime achievement award for Austin IT Division Manager Matt Esquibel. Retiring after many decades of service, Esquibel received high praise from his colleague, IT Project Manager Charles Purma, for his hard work, dedication, and outstanding sense of humor. He was known for fitting just the right song lyrics into his emails to coworkers.

As the leader of Web and Application Services at the City of Austin, Esquibel played a key role in initiating and developing the movement of Austin’s data onto Socrata and into the hands of citizens and staff.

Congrats on a job well done, Matt, and enjoy your retirement. After our visit to Austin, we’d like to recommend you eat more BBQ, swim at Barton Springs pool, and enjoy more views of your 1.5 millions bats.

Cheers to all the winners and we look forward to meeting our next SNU Award winners in 2019. 

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