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To jumpstart data-driven decision making in government, Socrata launches Data Academy

Live workshops and online training are customized to help cities find ways to collaborate across their organizations.

Colin Wood
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Colin Wood Managing Editor

Colin Wood is the managing editor of StateScoop. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine. Before that, he taught Engl...

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To meet a widespread desire among government entities for "improved data-driven decision making," data software firm Socrata has launched a new training program for government called Socrata Data Academy.

Announced Tuesday as customizable in-person workshops designed "for each organization's needs," paired with a series of free online course materials, the Academy seeks to fill gaps in cross-agency data training that some organizations may not be able to provide themselves.

Local government leaders recognize the potential that data can have on their organizations and communities, but can be overwhelmed by the "magnitude of available data and proliferation of software tools," Socrata Product Manager Rene Miller told StateScoop in an email. Socrata, a software company headquartered in Seattle, helps governments build open data portals and use data to improve internal budgeting and operations.

"The Socrata Data Academy trainings empower local government leaders to leverage data using the right tools to boost their program delivery and outcomes," Miller said. "They're about learning how to use data, and using the right tool at the right time."

The courses are designed to teach government program leaders and technology workers how to use technologies that include Excel, Tableau, Amazon Web Services, Quicksight and R. Online courses are provided at no cost, while open enrollment training is run on a "cost recovery basis" at $750 per paricipant, while private classroom training pricing varies and also operates on a cost recovery model, Miller said.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the Academy's early adopters, and it held its first two-day workshop in September, with another planned for the spring.

Robyn Mace, Nashville's chief data officer, told StateScoop it was a great opportunity "to come to together to start to think about how control over data and using data can improve the quality of decisions we make and the outcomes we're seeking."

Following the workshop, the city is now pursuing several new strategies and projects, Mace said, including an analysis that could lead to a smarter allocation of fire and emergency medical services.

Socrata's training program apart is unique, Mace said, because the quality of the trainers was "excellent" and the city was given the opportunity to customize the training for their exact needs. Before Mace was hired in July, 2016, she said the city didn't have resources to dedicate to this work, so it was helpful to get outside help at this early stage of data maturity.

"One of the most valuable things was the opportunity to get people together from multiple departments to see how our needs intersect around data and how our program development and outcomes can be so much stronger if we're able to leverage data across the enterprise rather than in the traditional silos," Mace said.

One of the city's priorities is around optimizing the use of its emergency services by identifying patterns that could indicate more systemic problems. People who frequently call 911 for non-emergencies can absorb city resources that could be rerouted to preventative or palliative care, Mace said.

The city already has a memorandum of understanding with Vanderbilt University, Mace said, to identify where accidents are most likely to occur so the city can position equipment nearby to more quickly respond to life-threatening emergencies, while also cutting down on vehicle miles for trucks that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The academy is helping the city identify ways to expand on those kinds of operational improvements.

If someone keeps calling 911 when they don't need to, it might mean something that the city should be paying attention to, Mace said.

"An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure," Mace said. "Maybe one person who's calling EMS multiple times can get transport to a doctor's appointment or get medicine refills, that's maybe symptomatic of a need a lot of people in that neighborhood have. So if we take a slightly broader lens, maybe we can get a more effective continuum of care or preventative care in that neighborhood level that can free up resources to address different issues."

The academy helped the city "jumpstart" its data efforts, Mace said, and has "galvanized our ability to have a group of people act as self-starters and actuators for thinking about data-driven activities and evaluation in their specific contexts, as well as across the enterprise."

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States, Tennessee, State & Local News, Innovation, Management & Workforce, Public Safety, Emergency Management, Tech News, Data & Analytics, Big Data, Socrata, Socrata Data Academy, Robyn Mace, Nashville

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