How the city plans to use data to keep kids safe
Chicago’s data efforts are expanding beyond pothole reports to more complex issues of community policing and predicting where to direct city services, including safety issues involved in school closings, the city’s top data guru says.
“Our job is not to make pretty pictures and pie charts — it’s to make decisions,” Brett Goldstein, Chicago’s chief information and chief data officer, told the City Club of Chicago on Monday at its public policy luncheon. The audience featured notables such as former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner, former Daley administration senior staffer John Doerrer, Chicago Chief Technology Officer John Tolva and city Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott.
The city’s Department of Innovation and Technology is developing the technologies themselves, rather than what Goldstein calls the “old way” of issuing a request for an outside agency to do the job for millions of dollars over a period of years.
The key is nimbleness, says Goldstein, who spent his early career developing the OpenTable restaurant reservation system and then switching to public service as a commander in the Chicago Police Department. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Goldstein to his current position in June.
Goldstein says he and his team developed two open-source projects that put Chicago in the forefront of municipal technology innovation:
• The WindyGrid project combines GPS location data with data from across the city’s departments to provide real-time information about what’s going on anywhere, anytime. That means the city could determine that when alley lights go out, garbage cans in those alleys tend to get stolen, Goldstein says. The city could then see in which neighborhoods that’s a problem, and how long it takes to fix the lights.
• The Smart Data Platform, which is now being developed to predict behavior down to a block-by-block level and creates models to try to prevent problems rather than react to them.
The city will use data analysis to answer the mayor’s call for all departments to support police efforts to provide safe passage for children who will attend new schools this fall after the closing of 54 public schools.
It’s not clear what data will contribute to that effort, but it includes making sure vacant buildings are secure and vacant lots are clear, ensuring street markings, such as street and bus signs, are clear and unobstructed, and confirming appropriate lighting is in place.
The city also held its second “hackathon” with Google on Saturday in which community developers proposed smartphone apps to let residents text questions, photos and information to their local CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) police teams about problems in their neighborhoods, and to access the CAPS calendar and post information to it.
The efforts are what Goldstein calls analytics that are “sustainable, real and a game changer.”
“It should not be hard to get data out of government,” he says. “It’s your data.”
Photo by Jean Lachat