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Solving Municipal Issues with Data Analytics

ChicagoEvery city faces problems and challenges. According to Information Week: Government, Chicago is beginning to turn to basic predictive analysis to solve some of those challenges.

They’re starting small, targeting the variables that lead to garbage cart thefts. The thefts create a surprisingly large drain on city finances.

Data analysis says that the thefts are more likely to occur in areas where alley lights are broken. City officials are responding by devoting resources to these repairs.

The new data analysis system is known as “Windy Grid,” and it’s still fairly simple. Mostly, it handles simple “cause-and-effect” tests on the results of Chicago’s data collection efforts.

However, the city is working to upgrade the system in order to make it a much more useful tool, one that could potentially help Chicago solve bigger problems.

“Developing a full-blown predictive analysis capability is much more ambitious. As envisioned, the system will flag for city leaders…indicators of coming problems including those that, unlike the out-of-commission street lights, they hadn’t considered.

The goal is to apply historical analysis to predict and prevent future problems. ‘We have the bones of this,’ Goldstein says, referring to Windy Grid. The next step is ‘taking it and saying if we’re seeing this in a given neighborhood, what’s likely to happen next?’

Goldstein’s team talks of ways to prevent graffiti, rodents, and garbage cart thefts. But what about Chicago’s more serious scourges, like its alarming homicide rate…or struggling schools?

Graffiti and rodents are mere starting points, says Brenna Berman, an ex-IBMer who’s now first deputy CIO. ‘This is the approach for how this department will be part of the answer for tackling the murder rate or addressing complex emergencies like snowstorms or improving the water infrastructure,’ she says. The harder-to-solve problems will take more data and analysis of more variables, but ‘it’s the exact same story for how you figure out which water mains are going to explode this year, so that we use our limited budget to improve the water infrastructure the right way over the next 10 years.’

Every organization faces challenges, even if few organizations find themselves tackling city-sized problems. The first step in making sense of data collection efforts is to receive the appropriate training. That’s why TMA offers data analytics training courses and a free webinar to help organizations make the most of these powerful capabilities.

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