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L.A. Data

The data team at the L.A. mayor’s office focuses on three areas: open data (spatial data or performance data), putting data to work, and analyzing spatial data in spatial segments.


John Wilson:
I’m John Wilson and I’m Professor and Director of the Spatial Sciences Institute at USC. And I am with Lilian Coral and Sari Ladin from the city of Los Angeles and the mayor’s office and his data team.

Lilian Coral:
So at the mayor’s office we are really focused on three areas. One is open data, continuing to really open up city hall to the public by allowing them to look at all of different kinds of data, whether it be just spatial data or performance data so that they can keep us accountable and also be creative about solving LA’s challenges.

And then we also focus a lot on putting that same data to work. So really driving analytics in the city and making sure that the city is being as smart as it can be with that data in order to inform our digital service strategy which is really, in future, gonna be much more focused around the smart cities. How do we make LA that first realized smart city that’s really putting data in real time to work? And it’s making decisions based off of that data.

We’re really looking at spatial data and that spatial segment, street segment as our level of analysis to really understand kind of more what we’re calling micro trends around things like crime, things like 3-1-1 service utilization, the cleanliness of the city streets and even business development because we can capture all that information at the street level, so why not actually really look at what’s going on in every block in LA and use that information to better serve all of our communities but in a much more targeted, community-focused, community-centered approach.

John Wilson:
So I have a sense that analytics is hard so you’re the analytics person, so what do you do in the city to make it more accessible, make it easier and make it work for more people?

Sari Ladin:
Thanks John. We work to change both the culture in the city so that more people are not afraid of analytics and are opening up spreadsheets daily and learning about the newest softwares and how to really maximize what’s out there. So we have a series of trainings that we do with city staff to help better manage with data and answer tough questions about resource allocation and service delivery to really improve the way that we function as a city and infuse our data into everyday work.
So part of our team’s mission is to both circulate that in the city but also to be sort of like a consulting service to the city. So we meet with policy shops within the mayor’s office and we also meet with departments to help them tackle these questions of “Okay, well, I don’t want to be using my phone calculator anymore, how do I really leverage what’s out there, how do I leverage all of the calculation tools and analytics tools and also how do I tell a story with data, how do I map data? I have all this valuable information and I just …” Oftentimes, they are not really sure how to best share it.

So what we like to do is provide a consultancy to them and guide them through the process. So we often storyboard with them, we think through what they are trying to solve, what is the problem statement? We then like to actually draw it out and see how we can best use the leverage or resources from Esri for example that has the story map feature that we really like using. And be able to sue that to kind of solve that problem, address it and share the results with the public.

John Wilson:
I’m very much of the idea that spatial is a way to generate collaboration and to generate value by working with others and in particular, applying spatial, like you will have to, to specific policy shops or use cases or application areas. And I also believe that to put well-trained students, when they graduate, into jobs, whether it be in the public or private or not for profit sectors, they need to have some experience of what the real world is like before they get there, otherwise it’s too great a leap.
And so we’ve been working now for six months on a public, private university partnership and so from your side, what do you think the lessons learned from our collaboration have been? Maybe Lilian, we’ll start with you?

Lilian Coral:
Well I think the main lesson is that in order to collaborate with the institution, I think the city has to really understand what resources it has to invest. So part of the way in which we designed this initiative with John and his team is making a true collaboration with biweekly meetings, a real intention of using multidisciplinary approach so that we were targeting students and academic advisors that had various focus areas so that we can look at our problem innovatively. And also that we were really teaching the students and the academic institution if you will all of the changes that in that biweekly collaboration, we were really helping them see all of the changes that we face. Because an issue changes tone and changes in importance. Any day at city hall, you just don’t really know. You can never look at one thing in any one way because tomorrow it might just look completely differently.

And I think that in that biweekly collaboration, the way that we structured it, we’ve been able to navigate that with the student and the academic team as a real collaboration, a true partnership. And I think that’s also partly why we see the results. There is flexibility both from the academic side, we’re not totally set on a very discreet problem statement. And then there is also flexibility on the policy side which is well, but this is where the data is taking us and so being responsive to one another has been really key.

And that multidisciplinary approach I think has been really wonderful where the spatial is the core component but we’ve got people from design, we’ve got folks from political science and then, you know, with environmental background. So looking at an issue like crime, I think it just blends a lot of different perspectives into a better solution.

Sari Ladin:
I think that we just have also made this a mutual beneficial project and we really value the students’ feedback. So for example in our most recent meeting, we were just getting together to discuss and kick off our next phase of analysis and we actually spent, I would say half of the meeting hearing the students’ feedback and how they felt about the recent presentation that they made to the mayor’s office and what they think we should be aligning with moving forward.

And while we have our own constraints and pushes and our motivations for continuing the project, we really do value the students’ insight, mostly because of their multidisciplinary background and their fresh perspective. And we really want them to not only gain technical skills but also gain problem solving skills and knowing when they’ve hit a dead end and when they should be jumping forward with something else. So that’s been really exciting.

John Wilson:

Yeah, so just to close that story. I think what we learned at our end is that it’s not sufficient just to throw you six students and say, “Okay, go work out how to do this with them.” And so on our side, you know, we’ve also back ended that with people like me that maybe appear infrequently but also a postdoc who’s sort of been, I think, instrumental in sometimes collaborating and liaising with you all and then translating to the students what that means in terms of their everyday work and everything else. And then a sort of a GIS project specialist that could help with some of the technical issues.

And so this is a model we want to replicate and so it’s wonderful work with the city and from our point of view, the collaboration has been fantastic.

Lilian Coral:

John Wilson:
For the six students that were involved last semester, you know I think in some of those cases it will be a game changer.