Businessman manipulating charts graphs standing above a city


Analytics for city governments

What: “Analytics in City Government: How the Civic Analytics Network Cities Are Using Data to Support Public Safety, Housing, Public Health, and Transportation,” a report from the Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

Why: Effective data analytics is a skill that most cities will have to master to hold their own in the rapidly modernizing world. The incorporation of data analytics into city policy could help cities improve housing and health inspections and better forecast fire and disease outbreak.

Findings: Analytics projects are complex and require step-by-step construction. The report outlined five steps for a successful analytics project:

  1. Identify a problem that can be supported or alleviated by analytics.
  2. Assess data readiness by determining whether the right personnel, data collection and storage practices and stakeholder buy-in are available (see Chicago’s Data Maturity Framework).
  3. Scope the project by defining goals, actions, data and analysis.
  4. Pilot the project, which will help to better transition the project to implementation.
  5. Implement and scale the model.

Although there is little literature on best practices for most of these steps, analytics teams can use projects in the Civic Analytics Network and others as models for their own projects.

The report also describes 10 analytics projects across the public safety, housing, public health and transportation sectors. New Orleans and Chicago, for example, are using data analytics for pilot projects that predict the spread of diseases like West Nile Virus and Zika.

New Orleans is using ArcGIS to “create risk maps based on analytics to help identify baseline larval habitats and to streamline sampling after the city intervenes with a population.” This type of project shows how open-source data can enhance transparency and citizen experience.

The report concludes with a list of suggested policies that can lay the foundation for government data analytics. The list includes tangible “open data policy roadmaps” and data literacy programs for government workers, but the more difficult suggestions require a cultural change that facilitates “data-driven insights” and links “civic engagement with city analytics.”

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Caroline Mohan is an editorial intern for FCW and GCN. She can be reached at

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