Dealing with Data Discomfort: Getting Bureaucrats to Embrace Data & Analytics

I had the opportunity to speak at Big Data Day LA 2016 about my work with the Mayor's Operations Innovation Team and how the various tactics we use to ensure data-driven projects don't get stuck or squashed due to bureaucracy. 

The presentation focused on 3 core principles - Simplify, Educate, Contextualize. I shared 3 stories, each speaking to one of the 3 points just mentioned, and then we had a healthy Q&A. 


Below are summaries of the 3 stories: 

1. We are building a database of the City's real estate assets and have received pushback due to a general lack of understanding around the technology and data work we have to do. To overcome this type of pushback we simplify our processes down to simple graphics that fit in 1 page with colors and shapes as visual cues. Through visual storytelling, we can more easily show steady progress and growing victories that builds continued support and trust. 


2. To prioritize employee safety and wellness, we're helping City departments enhance their data collection and reporting efforts. To do this, we have to dig into the reasons for why employees get hurt in the first place and have to ask a lot of questions - this process can sometimes lead to a feeling of "am I in trouble?", which can quickly turn a great collaboration sour. To deflate that feeling, we make it a point to create a lot of space so the folks we speak with can educate us about the specifics of their job. After we create space to be educated, we then share with them more insight than they've ever seen before in an interactive and easy to digest way. This exchange of useful and relevant information keeps things moving and makes discussion less combative. In this case we use interactive Tableau dashboards to guide the discussion. 


3. To better leverage government procurement - the act of buying goods and services - as an economic development tool, we have to prioritize areas and create incentive programs that maximize resources and impact. There are so many ways to go with this, that it can feel like there is no clear, correct choice. To overcome this, we created a list of all the minority and women owned businesses that are registered vendors with the city, and mapped out the top 5 zip codes where most of them operated out of. We then looked at which are the most commonly offered services in each ZIP code. The interactive maps and tables were crated using Tableau.


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