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The Value of Data

This spring Sonoma County was invited to participate in a White Boarding exercise focused on possible applications for health and human services.   In preparation, Sonoma County staff identified their biggest needs for applications.  Not surprising, responses focused on how to reach our customers and clients more directly, deliver services in a more timely way, and get the word out about programs, appointments and resources available.

The take away from the White Boarding exercise is still sinking in.  What has stayed with me the strongest is that everything can be mapped and not to discount the value of data within your current systems to help you, staff and elected officials make more informed decisions. 

For example, traffic counts and movement -- data easily captured from cell phone location tools that commuters rely on daily for traffic updates -- can be used to determine where to position police officers for greatest visibility in community policing efforts.  You can figure out when, where and for how long just by mining the data.  A city or county can track pedestrian traffic as well.  You can learn which stores in your neighborhood are the most frequently visited.  Or which neighborhood layouts lead to the greatest walkability and active living.

There are a number of citizen centric tools that can be used to locate resources and services and ways we can analyze all sorts of data in context to place.  Knowledge can be enhanced with visualization tools so that we can track trends and impacts. 

Sonoma County recently prepared a document entitled The Portrait of Sonoma.  It looks at a number of data points by census track and documents income, education and health metrics.  Using maps as one of the key ways to share the data, The Portrait added clear visuals of the opportunities available to our county.  We are now focusing our investments in those communities with the greatest disparities and are using The Portrait as a foundation to evaluate service delivery improvements to address gaps and target meaningful outcomes. 

At the White Boarding exercise, ESRI gave great examples of the use of story maps to tell a community’s story.   Using active data, these tools can map everything from fresh food availability to junk food prospects.  By mapping those locations and where clients live, you see places to target farmer’s markets, fresh food stands and provide the beginnings of a healthy change in neighborhoods.  

In summary, technology can help a local government understand and interpret community needs going forward. Visualizing the gaps and being able to model alternatives can provide direct benefit to decision makers.  Through the use of data, cities and counties can develop new ways to reach our customers and clients in a more direct, suitable and timely manner and be more responsive to our communities.  My thanks go out to ESRI and ICMA for hosting the White Boarding exercise.