Bigger isn't always better data

When it comes to open data, cities have taken on the mindset that bigger is better. But with size comes expense – from installing new sensing technology, to upgrading storage, to hiring the talent to process and analyze the data. According to Glassdoor, a data scientist earned $113,000 salary, on average in 2016.

Without the means to go big, a few cities have repurposed more modestly-sized administrative datasets, offering more bang for the buck. Administrative data are data collected or reported in the process of public service delivery. For example, when someone is arrested, the police generate administrative data about the crime, location, and demographics of those involved as part of the police report. From Boston to New Orleans, this administrative data are creating new value:

Performance Management in Boston, MA
The next big thing, according to the National League of Cities, will be predictive analytics, and specifically using administrative data, to inform resource allocation decisions.

In Boston, a ‘Problem Properties Task Force’ used administrative data from police departments including: crimes reported, police incidents, code enforcement violations and citizen service request calls to determine which properties were susceptible to crime. They then spent time and resources to mitigate risks before they occurred Due in part to their efforts, there were 70% fewer 911 calls to known problem properties over a two-year period.

Engaging Residents in New Orleans, LA
Smaller open data are a medium through which to engage residents in conversations about their neighborhoods. In New Orleans, the Police Department and Operation Spark, a community-based non-profit organization, hosted Summerware, an event bringing together police officers and youth in the neighborhoods they police.

As we’ve previously reported, Summerware exposed data about 911 calls for service and 311 service requests to analyze and address concerns about transparency and legitimacy in policing at a 3-day hackathon event.

Administrative data are a resource that already exists for many cities. Unlike big data, by taking advantage of smaller administrative datasets, whether for performance management or engaging communities, cities can quickly and cheaply generate new value.

Photo credit: Eric Wienke