Connecting state and local government leaders
Phoenix’s open data portal inspired residents to develop solutions for parking and urban heat on their own, the mayor says.
When a city opens valuable data to the community, the community can deliver innovative solutions back to government, according to one mayor.
An open data portal not only increases government transparency, but it can galvanize residents and researchers to leverage the data on their own and come up with innovative ways to improve city operations, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said during an April 18 webinar hosted by What Works Cities, an initiative of Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“We found the more [data] we gave them … the more they could deliver for us,” she said. “Instead of complaining, people are solving—and that’s the beauty of open data.”
For instance, residents that wanted to improve parking in the city requested transportation data so they could develop and present solutions, Gallego said. The community interested in curbing rising temperatures in the city used the open data portal to identify Phoenix’s hot spots. Some residents even redesigned bus stops to increase shade coverage.
“It's also helped our employees advocate for themselves with data,” she said. For instance, city staff have leveraged data to bridge pay gaps among men, women and communities of color, according to Gallego.
Data is provided by city agencies such as the Office of Homeless Solutions, the Neighborhood Services Department, the Parks and Recreation Department and the police and fire departments. Additional demographic, housing and economic and employment data comes from federal sources, including the Census Bureau, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
‘We try as much as possible to connect [the open data portal to] the original data source so that it's automatically populated as … data changes,” Gallego said. But some data sources are still written in older programming languages, so the city’s open data efforts have been dependent on agency database modernization progress.
Updated data systems deliver data to the community faster and reduce the burden on staff tasked with manually uploading information, she said. The time saved with automated data pulls gives staff the chance to focus more on data curation and project implementation.
Challenges sometimes arise when residents and business partners ask for custom datasets, as the demand for specialized datasets can conflict with the city’s efforts to standardize data across agencies, Gallego added.
Another issue is how data is actually being used. For example, Phoenix has a large mobile home community, and people—especially businesses—are interested in the data on these homes, she said. Mobile homes tend to sit on large plots of land that can also be used for apartments or other multifamily housing options.
“Some people would like to have a database of all the mobile homes so that we can provide services and support residents, but then others are concerned that that will become a trove of information for people who want to buy the parks and displace residents,” Gallego said. To mitigate competing interests, “we try to focus on philanthropy or community-minded goals, not giving one business free marketing and access to free datasets.”
Finally, leaning into feedback helps Phoenix collaborate with regional partners, she said. Issues such as housing and traffic management “don’t stop at our borders.” Demand for cross-community data “has helped us work with fellow mayors … and we’ve been collecting more and more data sources and connecting it to the open data portal.”
“We want to attract people who are interested in the same challenges we are,” Gallego said.