Heather Hudson is the recently-appointed Chief Data Officer for the City of Baltimore. Though Baltimore has long been recognized as a leader in data-driven decision making, having pioneered the Baltimore CitiStat performance management program, the role of Chief Data Officer is new to the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology. In this new role, Heather is leading the effort to update and streamline the City’s open data initiative, OpenBaltimore, and the existing CitiStat program, as well implementing big data and predictive analytics processes to allow for more efficient and robust data analysis.
Hudson spoke at the Code for America Summit last week about the evolution of Baltimore’s approach towards open data — and how her own ideas of the role of open data in cities have changed since working on the City’s OpenBaltimore initiative.
OpenBaltimore launched in early 2011, which was fairly early in the game compared to other cities, Hudson explained. The main focus of the initiative initially was transparency, citing a quote from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on the initial goals of the initiative: “Providing public access to government data will increase transparency and improve the level of trust between the people and their government.”
“I was hired in June of 2011 to just do open data. I came in and I was so excited about transparency. I thought it would be easy to just get the data online,” Hudson said. But her perspective quickly shifted. One of the very first datasets Baltimore released was parking citations. Right after Hudson started in June, a local developer built an app called SpotAgent: a simple smartphone app that analyzed the City’s parking citation data to reliably predict a user’s chances of getting a ticket at a particular location, date, and time.
When Hudson went to the next CitiStat meeting where the app was discussed, one of the deputy mayors pointed out that parking citations shouldn’t be so predictable in the first place. The parking authority was asked to start randomizing the days, times, and locations of the parking enforcement officers’ schedules.
“That was the moment I realized open data is not just about transparency — it can teach us how to run the City’s operations better,” said Hudson. In the hands of citizens who are looking at it from a different perspective, data can reveal new insights about how the City is running and where there is room for improvement.
“Open data not only improves transparency and invites community participation. Open data also improves interagency collaboration and government efficiency.”
— Heather Hudson
Watch the full talk below.
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