'What Works Cities' network uses Slack to trade open data ideas

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Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative is using workplace communication app Slack to help its member cities trade ideas about how to best use data. 

As part of the initiative, 27 selected cities are supposed to find and share ways to use the data they collect to make better decisions, and officials say that Slack makes that easier. The app allows member cities and several localities looking to join the initiative to join an “All Cities” Slack team. Within the team, users can communicate in issue-specific “channels” or in private, direct messages to other members. 

“We’ve always thought about how we can begin to bring this community together, since everyone is across the country,” said Zach Markovits, the director of city programs for Results for America, which operates the What Works Cities initiative with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ funding. “How can you provide forums and salons to share ideas in virtual settings when you can’t do it actually in person?”

Slack, he said, “is an opportunity to provide specific channels where people can have these discussions about what works well, and what has not worked well.” 

[Read more: Cities must demonstrate to residents why data is important — panel]

The program launched last year, and representatives for the participating cities first met in person in April in New York. So far, the app has been able to keep the conversations going, Markovits said. 

“Conversation there ebbs and flows as things happen in cities, coming off of the summit, you began to see people having these kinds of conversations and taking it a little deeper,” he said.

The channels on Slack allow the team to focus on specific projects and activities — or talk more generally in an “open data” channel. A major advantage is everything on the platform is easily searchable and indexable, said Andrew Nicklin, the director of open data for John Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence, a What Works Cities partner. 

“We don’t want to keep on showering people’s inboxes with stuff,” Nicklin told StateScoop. “Getting [city members] out of their email environment and into a different kind of network is useful.”

The cities team uses Slack’s paid version, which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. All together, the team has more than 200 active members, with only about a quarter of that number representing Results for America, GovEx and other partners. The rest come from the cities themselves. 

According to Nicklin and Markovits, Slack lays the groundwork for the initiative’s larger plan to promote communication between cities.  

“It’s just one vision for what we want to do for a peer network,” Nicklin said. “There’s a much broader vision for how to keep cities together and how to keep knowledge shared, and so as we build out the rest of the infrastructure, Slack is our campground for it, but it’s not our whole picture.”

Markovits agreed.

“Slack is a tool, like anything else and we’re lucky to get to work with a ton of cities across the country to share stories,” he said. 

Contact the reporter who wrote this story at jake.williams@statescoop.com and follow him on Twitter @JakeWilliamsDC.

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Bloomberg Philanthropies, Digital Services, Innovation, Mobility, Partnerships, Shared Services, Slack, Smart Cities, State & Local News, Tech News, Websites, What Works Cities, Zach Markovits
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