“The next frontier for governments is how we can use data and analytics to make better evidence-based decisions.” – Mayor Don Iveson, Open Data Strategy, January 2017
On paper, the City of Edmonton has mastered advanced data practices. Throughout its more than six years of working with open data and open government principles, the City has won many awards, including the Open Cities Index, the Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2017, and WeGo Smart Sustainable City awards. Even still, Edmonton recognized there were some areas of its internal data practice, in particular, that could use additional attention to sustain and spread this work throughout the entire organization. Without holistic staff capacity and the incorporation of resident opinion in the data process, Edmonton needed to take a step back in order to move forward.
In partnership with the team at John Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) through the What Works Cities (WWC) initiative, the City of Edmonton embarked on a mission to do the internal work needed to ensure the longevity of its data practices. Edmonton took a scientific, rigorous approach. From assessing staff’s skills and designing trainings in response, to creating a data governance team, the City reinvisioned how its data management practices would be structured.
As one of the five international pilot cities, Edmonton was eager to show how this work could translate to the Canadian context. During GovEx’s site visit in Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson set the tone for the day, sharing his desire to ensure transparency and accountability, lean up operations while improving services, and demonstrate excellence across the City. Leaders within the organization were eager to take advantage of this assistance to accelerate current work. In particular City Operations was interested in piloting a data management engagement to support its strategic planning process around customer experience. City Operations is a key provider of customer service citywide. With 5,500 employees, this department handles many of the externally facing services in Edmonton (e.g., Parks and Roads Services, Edmonton Transit Services, Fleet and Facility Services, Waste Services, Business Performance and Customer Experience).
The goal became to improve Edmonton’s ability to treat data as a strategic asset, leveraging it more effectively for reliable insights and more efficient service provision, and laying the foundation for advanced data practices. This included a focus on making data more consumable, reliable, and readily available for residents, departmental staff, and leadership. The City sought to achieve this by developing the processes to routinely inventory, prioritize, release, and maintain data.
While Edmonton had previously attempted to create a centralized authority on data, the City now believed it had the right people at the table and an effective organizational structure for this work to be successful. Data governance is the exercise of authority, control, and shared decision-making over the management of data assets. An established data governance committee was a key foundational data practice that the City needed to solidify its work and support other data efforts around the organization. Edmonton set to work determining data governance membership, decision-making authority, and roles and responsibilities. The City drafted a terms of reference and an accompanying roadmap designating the initial key topics and establishing reasonable milestones and timelines for certain decisions and policies.
As part of the City Operations work, the City of Edmonton wanted to evaluate staff skills and abilities to determine if staff had what they needed to best serve the community. Edmonton began the project by compiling job descriptions for analysts across the City and determining if the job descriptions aligned with actual duties. Next, the City surveyed analysts to assess their data management and analytics skills, understand where they thought the barriers were, and determine the most pressing areas in which to develop trainings.
A few of the survey responses got to the heart of the situation. Data showed that staff skills weren’t consistent and staff were unsure of where to turn to access data, visualize data for decision making, and present data in an appropriate way. Specifically, data from surveys showed that 46% of respondents believed a lack of information about available data and the contact person was a barrier to bringing data and analytics into the decision-making process. Additionally, 42% of respondents believe data is not integrated, while 39% think that a lack of skills and training is a significant limitation.
To address these top three concerns, City Operations completed a comprehensive data inventory of more than 300 datasets, including data steward information, to increase transparency around what data is available across the City. The data inventory is being completed by other business areas with the refined City Operations and FAQs developed during the process. Edmonton also made great strides on the launch of its internal data warehouse, the One City Data Hub, which will address many of the data integration concerns. The goal of the data warehouse is make data easy to find, fast to access via checkout, simple to request new data, and painless to share insights. Much of the remainder of the engagement was spent addressing the lack of skills and training for analytics.
The survey showed that elevating data literacy and enhancing data storytelling were top of mind for staff in City Operations and their Corporate business area counterparts. GovEx created four trainings in these areas. Edmonton launched a training academy for staff citywide to meet these needs, pairing workshop sessions for front-line staff with presentations to leadership to make sure everyone has the same expectations and a common framework to move forward.
The data literacy training focused on giving participants a baseline understanding of data assets in the organization, how to bring them into analysis and decision making to address the problem and reach outcomes, and how to keep the learning going. The data storytelling training discussed the importance of storytelling in making data relatable, elements of a good story, and how to visualize and communicate data to a variety of audiences. The trainings used Edmonton’s own bylaw infraction data for their exercises. Participants walked away with increased insights about the City’s bylaw work, new skills to bring to their own efforts, and a framework to rely on.
Edmonton’s School of Business is continuing these four training modules and expanding on this work given staff demand and interest.
Why This Matters
There’s a lot to learn from Edmonton’s work. It’s easy to get excited about the trends in data and evidence. Open data has become the norm and cities are exploring what it means to be a Smart City. However, without having a solid foundational data practice, your municipality will be in limbo, unable to quickly and efficiently participate in other data-related initiatives and hot topics in government innovation. Edmonton took the time to step back and ensure it had all the necessary practices in place to continue its widely recognized data work. Edmonton’s strong data governance foundation bolstered and centered this work. It will continue to do so after the engagement because of the strong documentation to support this mission and process. Staff now feel they have the support they need to be successful and there is more cohesion in the City’s efforts.
Other governments and organizations looking to explore training and elevating staff skills should consider the Edmonton model for engaging staff in the training scoping and development processes. In this model, prioritizing staff learning and development will have broad effects on customer service and experience with local government. Decisions will be made with quantitative and qualitative data driving the process. Information will be more clearly communicated within and outside of the organization. Staff at all levels will have a better understanding of how their skills and abilities tie into organizational goals.
How to Bring These Practices to Your City or Department
Want to work on your city’s or department’s data management practices, but don’t know where to start? Check out GovEx’s resources:
To keep up with the work Edmonton is doing and read about What Works Cities: