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By Sari Ladin

Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles launched GeoHub, an ambitious map-based portal designed to improve communication across city departments, spur innovation, and increase community engagement. GeoHub, powered by Esri’s enterprise location engine, connects citywide location-based data to plan for and support city operations efficiently across diverse residents. The GeoHub’s repository supports interactive maps that can be created and modified in real-time to engage Angelenos and expedite cross-departmental decision making.

This is quite an accomplishment for a city that launched its first Open Data Portal less than two years ago. Under Mayor Eric Garcetti and Chief Data Officer (CDO) Lilian Coral, L.A. has become a world leader in open data innovation.

Leadership Made L.A. an Open Data City

When Mayor Garcetti took office in 2013, Los Angeles, like many other cities, was recovering from the Great Recession, which affected city investment in technology and innovation. The mayor was committed to reversing this trend and thus focused on building the data infrastructure necessary to make L.A. an open data city.

In December 2013, the mayor paved the path for a robust data infrastructure when he issued Executive Directive 3 (ED3) on Open Data, a directive that outlines immediate steps for the creation of the City’s first Open Data Portal. In ED3, the mayor announced the establishment of “an Open Data Portal that will serve as the central source for department open data.” ED3 provided the political leadership necessary to secure L.A.’s data assets portfolio and opened the door to private-public partnerships and innovation that led to the creation of the GeoHub. The mayor’s portfolio is a clear indication of his commitment to data-driven policymaking. This portfolio fulfills the goals set out by ED3, including transparency and government innovation. Currently, the mayor has five data channels: LA's Open Data Portal, the City’s first open data platform which feeds datasets to the GeoHub; Open Budget, a tool for navigating LA’s budget; The Mayor's Dashboard, which delivers up-to-date information on city service delivery; Performance pLAn Dashboard, which displays sustainability metrics related to the nearest-term goals identified by the Sustainable City pLAn; and the GeoHub.

While ED3 was the impetus for open data in Los Angeles, the leadership team comprised of now CDO Lilian Coral and former Chief Technology Officer Peter Marx executed the mayor’s data vision. Marx played an essential role in developing the Open Data Portal and opening up city data through data-sharing agreements with commercial partners such as Google’s Waze, to help more than 2 million users drive efficiently across the city. CDO Coral led asset development and continues to guide the mayor’s Data Team in streamlining a citywide data management strategy.

A Cross-Departmental Model Yields Results

Prior to the GeoHub, departments faced infrastructure hurdles that prevented cross-departmental data sharing. The GeoHub is the first platform to serve as a single entry point for all city departments using geospatial data. The GeoHub facilitates data sharing across departments by allowing city staff to create maps where each map layer is sourced from a different department. The mayor’s Data Team convened a working group in May 2015 comprised of the departments producing the majority of the city’s geospatial data: Bureau of Engineering, Department of Transportation, Department of Water and Power, Bureau of Street Services, and Department of Finance, Planning, Fire, and Police. The working group, led by then Deputy CDO Coral, met over the course of six months to provide feedback on a data-sharing platform. The group established four goals for the work: to streamline interdepartmental data collaboration; provide effective trainings for city staff on how to take advantage of this powerful tool for analysis, visualization, and application development; to supplement the Open Data Portal, which is primarily transactional data, with a geospatial data portal; and to develop flagship applications that demonstrate the functionality of this model.

In the few months since its launch, GeoHub has successfully achieved the objectives set out by the working group. The platform increases efficiency in city services by providing real-time access to over 500 datasets shared across 20 city departments.

In July 2016, the mayor’s Data Team, which includes the CDO and five staffers, and Esri hosted a citywide GeoHub workshop. The workshop was well-attended, with over 40 city employees representing nearly 20 departments. The mayor’s Data Team will host a series of additional workshops providing city employees with the necessary tools to take advantage of the vast resources available within the mayor’s data portfolio. City departments are eager to join the GeoHub and upload datasets, which are then pushed into the cloud where users generate apps. Currently, the GeoHub has nearly 40 apps that leverage the City’s geospatial data inventory.

GeoHub’s smart mapping applications exemplify the usability of this platform. Street Wize is one such application that demonstrates the important role open data plays in informing and improving the lives of city residents. While essential for city upkeep, persistent roadwork and construction have negative effects on drivers and residents. Street Wize helps alleviate this by pulling datasets from planning departments to map various capital and construction projects happening in each neighborhood. In addition, the tool improves communication across city departments so that they can better coordinate project timelines. With Street Wize, departments can be more thoughtful when planning work across Los Angeles to avoid having too many work projects in one area that may impede traffic and livability, Angelenos can have greater insight into what’s happening on their street, private developers can plan strategically around opportunities to build, and apps like Waze can have access to the best real-time data on activity in the public right of way.

GeoHub Spurs Innovation and Community Engagement

Prior to the GeoHub, data scientists, researchers, and other community stakeholders had to search for individual shape files in order to build geospatial datasets. Less experienced data users lacked access to applications that showcased the city services. Now, Angelenos can engage with data through interactive story maps. Esri story maps allow GeoHub users to blend maps with text, images, and multimedia content to build a clear narrative that is accessible to a wide audience. Road to 2400, a story map visualizing Mayor Garcetti’s commitment to paving 2400 lane miles every year in Los Angeles, maps every street segment paved in chronological order and provides a timeline to reflect the policy that led to these efforts.

The launch of the GeoHub sparked a new channel of communication between the City of Los Angeles and community entities, opening up new opportunities for engagement with universities, data science practitioners, and nonprofits. Mayor Garcetti’s Data Team will collaborate with community groups to address public safety concerns through the use of open data.

“The big idea behind the GeoHub is that it’s configurable, collaborative and always changing,” said Coral. “GeoHub serves as a foundation to do the work of making smarter cities: It pulls data from many different places and weaves various perspectives to create the most compelling maps and apps.” The GeoHub platform has improved inter-departmental communication, civic engagement, and governmental performance by making previously open data more usable. The GeoHub serves as a blueprint for other cities looking to improve data access across departments and tell a story with data, in addition to making it accessible by the public. 

About the Author

Sari Ladin

Sari Ladin is a Research Fellow for the Civic Analytics Network. She is based in Los Angeles where she works with the Chief Data Officer to further the City's open data program. Sari provides research and strategic analysis on current and upcoming initiatives that improve access to data for residents and city employees. She has a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley and a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from Brandeis University. Sari has extensive experience working as a policy analyst on the local, state, and federal level. Her previous work focused on data analysis, budgeting, and strategic alignment.

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