By Myung J. Lee
When you read about governments using data today it’s often about how they’re using things like analytics to help national concerns such as health care, or public safety issues, such as the NYPD’s CompStat program. But mayors are becoming some of the biggest consumers of data, and cities are using analytics in innovative ways that never before seemed possible.
That convergence of government services and data is one of the things being discussed this week at the ThinkForum in Manhattan, where IBM is engaging with leaders from around the world to talk about how analytics can help change cities, countries and industries.
Mayors are working with nonprofits, local agencies, and others to engage and empower their citizens to solve real problems in their communities — with data, and despite fewer resources than ever before. The real stories are inspiring, and the possibilities for replication are endless.
In Arizona, for example, the city of Mesa has a mobile app called “MyMesa” that allows citizens to report on a variety of issues such as graffiti, potholes, street sweeping, and missed trash collections. Citizens can report details from their mobile phones, and even send photos to city departments, and the app notes the location of the request using the phones’ GPS so crews can be dispatched to the exact location.
Cities of Service provided support to Mesa so that the mayor and city officials could help get people to use the service instead of more expensive phone hotlines, and match Mesa’s needs with volunteers from a local community college to create methods to educate residents on the app and how to use it. Since the launch of the initiative in February, Mesa has received nearly 4,000 more reports than during the same period last year, and the city is learning how to provide better service through analyzing the data it collects.
Even nature holds data that can be studied to help enhance a city. Thousands of different plant species thrive in Austin, Texas — unfortunately, not all of the species are beneficial to the environment, and some can harm the local wildlife and the city’s water supply. To combat this problem and to help Austin leaders make management decisions, Austin
developed a plant management plan that includes a database of the top invasive plants, an app to teach people about the plants and a training program for citizen volunteers to learn to recognize and report invasive species whenever they see them.
Volunteer efforts based on analytics are happening here in New York, too. One initiative, called NYC Cool Roofs, engages volunteers to paint building rooftops with a reflective white coating, helping to reduce internal building temperatures by up to 30 percent. Every 2,500 square feet of roof that is coated can reduce the city’s carbon footprint by one ton of CO2, and the goal is to coat enough rooftops in designated neighborhoods in Long Island City, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the South Bronx to reduce New York’s carbon emissions by 227 metric tons — the equivalent of having a large apartment building of New Yorkers not drive for an entire year.
Mayors know that giving people the power to do something to help fix issues in their own communities makes them feel more engaged. We are beginning to see how using data to showcase the results of their efforts can make a huge difference to volunteers, organizations, and communities. Cities of Service is working with nearly 200 U.S. mayors to help their cities understand data, and leverage volunteer efforts to where it can make the biggest impact. Businesses use data to make decisions all the time, and cities need to do the same to deploy its greatest resources – its people.
The problems facing cities are vast, as are the pools of data being created by citizens. By empowering citizens to participate in meaningful ways to help their communities, together we can leverage this tide of data and put volunteers and the business community to work on the best solutions. The need for cities to learn from one another, and to help enable volunteers to make progress one community at a time, has never been greater — and the analytics to help drive this progress are now in the palm of our hands.