Cincinnati is showing citizens how public services and policy are affecting where they live through easily digestible, interactive maps and graphs that visualise city data. The CincyInsights portal lets users track public spending, business activity, ambulance calls, rubbish pickups and other services specific to their street and neighbourhood. The platform has significantly increased the use of and demand for public data, as well as improved public services: its heroin dashboard played a key role in helping medical officials combat the city’s opioid crisis.
Results & Impact
The CincyInsights data visualisations are making it easier for citizens to understand how policy affects public services where they live, and helping officials better use data to improve services. The platform's Heroin tracker, for example, played a key role in helping medical staff respond to the city's opioid problem by showing them where and when incidents were occuring, allowing them to preemptively deploy medical services to worst-affected areas. CincyInsights' street-level data has also significantly increased interest in and use of the city's open data, with citizens now downloading substantially more data since its launch, according to Leigh Tami, Chief Performance Officer and Director at Cincinnati's Office of Performance and Data Analytics.
Cincinnati Office of Performance and Data Analytics, Tableau
CincyInsights uses visualisation software from Tableau to create data-driven graphs and interactive maps. Each dashboard (an interactive, at-a-glance visualisation of key data points) is connected to the city’s data warehouse. Created as part of the CincyInsights project, the warehouse pulls in data from city agencies and private vendors. This occurs at set time intervals, varying from every five minutes for the snow plough tracker to once a day for other data sets, and is often done via APIs. Before this takes place, city officials identify the type of data they want to display from each data set and clean it accordingly. Links between data sets are also planned in advance, allowing maps to integrate information from more than one source. The code is then written to extract the information in the desired format and store it in Cincinnati’s data warehouse. A second set of code pushes the data from the warehouse into maps and graphs on the CincyInsights platform. The data is automatically refreshed whenever new information is pulled into the data warehouse.
Cost & Value
CincyInsights cost approximately $55,000 to develop and launch.
Running since 2016
Creating the data infrastructure to feed the visual platform was complex and time-consuming, primarily because of the extensive cleaning and standardisation needed to make the data useable. For instance, data sets often contained personal information that needed to be anonymized, such as officer numbers in the case of police data. Different data sets sometimes also recorded the same parameters using different terms, each of which needed to be standardized. Additionally, all links between data sets had to be identified manually. For instance, to allow users to move between viewing information by addresses and neighbourhoods, code needed to be written to link those data sets. The visualisation process, therefore, requires considerable foresight to envision all the ways in which data needs to be combined, and ensure all discrepancies are ironed out.
Cincinnati is showing citizens how policy affects public services where they live through interactive, easily digestible maps and graphs that visualise city data.
Launched in 2016, the CincyInsights platform allows users to manipulate city data to see how economic activity, public spending, police work and other services are carried out on any street in the city. The data visualisations are inspiring citizen engagement in policy outcomes and helping public officials improve services. The platform’s heroin dashboard has played a key role in helping medical officials combat the city’s opioid problem, while its snow plough tracker, which is updated every five minutes, received widespread coverage during the winter of 2016.
“When I assumed the position of Chief Performance Officer, one of the things I immediately realised is that open data is really good in theory – but is not necessarily useable as is for most people,” said Leigh Tami, Cincinnati’s Chief Performance Officer. “This is something we needed to make accessible, otherwise it is hard for us to say we have a transparent government.”
The aim is to embed policy results in a context relevant to citizens’ everyday lives. Dashboards are categorised according to five themes, which reflect key priorities for Cincinnati authorities: Safer Streets, Growing Economy, Thriving & Healthy Neighbourhoods, Innovative Government and Fiscal Sustainability and Strategic Investment.
If users are interested in a particular topic, they can use a word search tool to find dashboards related to key themes, or type in an address to see what is going on in their neighbourhood. Citizens can also see how things are changing over time: for instance, the number of police call outs can be compared on a month-by-month basis or by day of the week.
“Primarily people have been using this as a tool and a way to see what is happening in their community,” said Tami. “It’s about answering questions everyone has regarding what is happening where they live. That’s what we try to get at with our bigger visualisations and GPS trackers. We have a snow plough tracker, a street sweeper tracker and a trash truck tracker. So people can see, ‘This is what has been covered today, this is where this vehicle has gone.’ You know what is happening in your neighbourhood.”
As well as helping citizens better understand policy, the visualisations have made it possible for emergency services to more easily integrate city data into their operating procedures. This has been critical in helping medical staff decide how to allocate scarce resources in response to Cincinnati’s heroin epidemic.
During the crisis, when emergency services faced reports of up to 174 incidents in a single week, CincyInsights’ heroin tracker allowed medical staff and volunteer groups to understand the patterns underpinning the crisis. Emergency Services’ response data was logged and broken down by neighbourhood, allowing officials to see where overdoses were occurring and at which time of day. This revealed that most incidents took place in the late afternoon and peaked by eight or nine in the evening, with incidents clustered in several neighbourhoods. As a result, Cincinnati was able to preemptively deploy roving medical teams to the areas where the most incidents were likely to occur at the times of highest risk. Community support groups also use the data to better target assistance.
Despite having been operational for a short amount of time, CincyInsights is changing attitudes toward data in the city. Since its December 2016 launch, the number of visitors has steadily increased and downloads of raw data from the city’s portal have risen sharply.
“People have started to expect a higher degree of insight from data, which is really positive,” said Tami. “People expect to have an interactive map or they expect to be able to look at priority calls and heroin overdoses by month and by neighbourhood. That’s not something that has historically been available.”
“Prior to the launch of CincyInsights, the browser views for the Open Data portal stayed more or less the same, but the actual data use was way, way lower,” said Tami. “This indicates to us that CincyInsights has resulted in more users going to the raw source of the data.”
To further increase engagement, the platform contains a “Viz of the month” feature, allowing users to request that specific types of data be visualised.
CincyInsights operates through a central database which collects all the information to be visualised on interactive dashboards. Data is first cleaned and anonymised, after which code is written to transfer the data from agencies and organisations into the main database in a standardized format. Data is called into the warehouse at regular, pre-programmed intervals, varying from once a day to every five minutes. A separate set of code is used to push the cleaned data from the warehouse onto the CincyInsights platform and embed it in the visualisations.
Going forward, the city plans to expand the platform and make it more accessible across different devices.
“We are increasing the amount and the type of visualisations that we have,” said Tami. “We are trying to create a mobile view on all of them so that people can quickly and easily look at all this information on a cell phone.”
CincyInsights has approximately 24 dashboards encompassing close to 50 data sets. As of August 2017, the platform had received nearly 90,000 views.
(Picture credit: Pixabay/Wikilmages)