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If It's Broke, Just Throw It in the Trash

Before any analytics project can begin, it needs a well-defined problem – but often, there’s a lot of work to get to that starting line. In the GovEx Foundations of Advanced Analytics course, we use real-world examples and exercises based on tested practices in order to identify and prioritize opportunities for data to make a difference, using performance management metrics and goals to align interests and ownership across departments. Students are asked to explore data from their own work to develop a deeper understanding of how these concepts can be applied locally, which can lead to immediately actionable results.

This past summer, the city of Memphis, TN enrolled several of their analysts in this course, with an interest in investigating their 311 data. We began with participants learning how to start from a community priority, and then used exploratory analysis to further understand where the issues were occurring and what exactly was going on. As they started to identify particular areas of concern, one analyst noticed that a specific area of the city had an unusually high number of complaints, nearly 80% of which were related to sloppy or missed trash collection. Upon further inspection, they were able to identify a specific underperforming vendor as the source of many of these complaints, and were able to take swift action. Though this problem may have only impacted a small portion of the City, the recognition and resolution of such an acute problem was welcome news for many residents in that community.

This kind of granular attention to challenges in a community doesn’t require teams of data scientists working around the clock, but it does ask analysts to immerse themselves in the data and ask probing questions to get to the problems they can address before embarking on a project. Finding the right problem – large or small – means the difference between having an impact or just treading water.\

Read more about the impact on this Memphis neighborhood.


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