Little Rock Shows How Open Data Drives Resident Engagement

Blog by  Ross Schwartz: “The 12th Street corridor is in the heart of Little Rock, stretching west from downtown across multiple neighborhoods. But for years the area had suffered from high crime rates and disinvestment, and is considered a food desert.

With the intention of improving public safety and supporting efforts to revitalize the area, the City built a new police station in 2014 on the street. And, in the years following, as city staff ramped up efforts to place data at the center of problem-solving, it began to hold two-day-long “Data Academy” trainings for city employees and residents on foundational data practices, including data analysis.

Responding to public safety concerns, a 2018 Data Academy training focused on 12th Street. A cross-department team dug into data sets to understand the challenges facing the area, looking at variables including crime, building code violations, and poverty. It turned out the neighborhood with the highest levels of crime and blight was actually blocks away from 12th Street itself, in Midtown. A predominantly African-American neighborhood just east of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus, Midtown has a mix of older longtime homeowners and younger renters.

“It was a real data-driven ‘a-ha’ moment — an example of what you can understand about a city if you have the right data sets and look in the right places,” says Melissa Bridges, Little Rock’s performance and innovation coordinator. With support from What Works Cities (WWC), for the last five years she’s led Little Rock’s efforts to build open data and performance measurement resources and infrastructure…

Newly aware of Midtown’s challenges, city officials decided to engage residents in the neighborhood and adjacent areas. Data Academy members hosted a human-centered design workshop, during which residents were given the opportunity to self-prioritize their pressing concerns. Rather than lead the workshop, officials from various city departments quietly observed the discussion.

The main issue that emerged? Many parts of Midtown were poorly lit due to broken or blocked streetlights. Many residents didn’t feel safe and didn’t know how to alert the City to get lights fixed or vegetation cut back. A review of 311 request data showed that few streetlight problems in the area were ever reported to the City.

Aware of studies showing the correlation between dark streets and crime, the City designed a streetlight canvassing project in partnership with area neighborhood associations to engage and empower residents. Bridges and her team built canvassing route maps using Google Maps and Little Rock Citizen Connect, which collects 311 requests and other data sets. Then they gathered resident volunteers to walk or drive Midtown’s streets on a Friday night, using the City’s 311 mobile app to make a light service request and tag the location….(More)”.