Created an interactive tool to provide residents with data around key indicators about where they live and work within the community – including housing, education, environment, health, and safety.
Introduced and maintained a variety of data-driven dashboards which offer user-friendly options for residents, city staff, and leaders to access vital information.
Launched a citywide collaboration offering trainings on how to use data collaboratively, helping staff make better-informed decisions when creating or updating city programs and policies.
Charlotte’s Long History with Data
Spend a day at the Government Center in Charlotte, NC, and three things become apparent: The staff has a deep affection for the city — its friendliness and welcoming vibe. They can’t get enough of the hush puppies at Midwood Smokehouse. And they are extraordinarily enthusiastic about tapping the power of data in city government to improve lives.
There is a distinctive joy that comes across when teams work together to support city-wide goals. Staff share their data super powers, and operate under the mantra “Making Heroes out of Others” — whether supporting Charlotte’s transportation team with the Vision Zero initiative, making information easier to find with the online Public Records Requests Tracker, or most recently, empowering Emergency Management as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
Maybe it has to do with Charlotte’s long history of using data to achieve strategic goals and build resources the public can directly interact with. Case in point: Way back in 2000, the City launched what is now the Quality of Life Explorer, an online dashboard that details an incredible array of social, housing, economic, environmental and safety conditions in Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County. A study that began with nine indicators and just a handful of neighborhoods 20 years ago is now a robust, interactive online tool that incorporates over 80 variables and more than 460 neighborhood areas.
Fittingly, Charlotte itself has also grown significantly during the last two decades, in no small part due to its high quality of life. With a job growth rate far beyond the national average across the last decade, its population rose by nearly 25 percent since 2010 — faster than most cities in the country.
All that growth created opportunities and challenges. With more and more residents relying on city services and infrastructure, and development project proposals multiplying, the Charlotte City Council started voicing its need for detailed data on which to base decisions.
City leaders got the message: It was time to ramp up data know-how to help ensure rapid growth didn’t hurt the quality of life that attracted so many to Charlotte in the first place.
An In-House Academy
City leaders could have sent teams off to trainings with outside vendors to strengthen data reporting and analytics capabilities across all departments. But why use theoretical data sets in an external curriculum when staff could learn while troubleshooting real-world challenges with colleagues? To that end, the City’s data team decided to create their own solution — one that fills skill gaps by taking advantage of in-house expertise, builds relationships across departments, and fosters a culture of curiosity and innovation. It’s called OpEx Academy, and it underscores how passionate city staff is about data and putting it to work for the community.
Housed within the Center for Data and Analytics (CDA), the Academy has offered a total of 65 (free) courses to staff since launching in 2018. CDA initially focused on courses that addressed capacity needs; topics included data quality assurance and performance management tools. Within a year, courses had long waiting lists. As interest grew, CDA developed courses responding to specific staff interests. (Fall 2019 offerings included “SQL Junction — What’s Your Function?” and “Intro to City Shared Data Applications.”)
So far the OpEx Academy has more than 20 city staff trainers across departments as diverse as Charlotte Water, Human Resources, Charlotte Department of Transportation, and Innovation & Technology. “OpEx Academy is a great citywide collaboration,” says Rebecca Hefner, the City’s Data & Analytics Officer who is also a peer trainer and leads many of the city’s data-informed efforts.
More than 230 employees have received over 1,400 hours of free training and instruction designed and taught by peers. One collaborative course at a time, the City of Charlotte is deepening its capacity for data-driven governance and building a culture in which data powers solutions.