Dashboards and Data Viz | Government

Data Visualization in Local Government

Data visualization isn’t just for businesses, journalism, and nonprofits; it’s a tool that government at all levels can use to track data, communicate metrics, and better serve citizens. Local government, in particular, can make great use of big data and data visualization to make intelligent decisions from a strategic and economic framework.

When city officials take data seriously, they do more than crunch the numbers: they provide meaningful information to citizens, effectively allocate resources, and help voters make informed decisions. That’s the beauty of data visualization for city leaders and government entities: It links high-level systems to tools that create relevant and accessible dashboards that actually make a difference.

The Importance of Data Transparency

On the local government level, data transparency is important for a number of reasons. First, it establishes trust between the city and the people who live there. But accountability isn’t just for the benefit of those on the outside looking in; it also leads to better decision making and risk management. When each department is open with their data, they can share information and collaborate with other municipal entities. This level of communication ensures that every department and branch is on the same page, has the same insight, and the same goals – which means everyone benefits.

Doing it Right: The Boston Citywide Analytics Team

Boston City Analytics Team

So what does it look like when a city takes data to heart? Look no further than the Boston Citywide Analytics Team. In Boston, this team delivers powerful results using data. When Mayor Marty Walsh took office in 2014, he announced and implemented the Citywide Analytics Team a year later. The goal? To lead the city with data-driven decisions. This meant equipping others with the same access to powerful data, which lead to the creation of the Mayors Dashboard, a public and ever-evolving snapshot of the most important metrics to the city.

Today, the Citywide Analytics Team is responsible for empowering crucial change, such as improved ambulance response times, health inspections that catch violations before they endanger health, and minimized response times to emergency calls. In the end, data visualization on the citywide level isn’t just about gathering information and reports. It’s about creating a better place for citizens to live and work.

Read next: The Importance of Open Government

The Power of Collaboration

Like many government data visualization organizations, the Boston Citywide Analytics Team takes a collaborative approach to its mission. Working closely with department contacts, the team selects projects based on real needs and concerns. From the very beginning, the team focused on understanding what each department needed, and then began to work with stakeholders from the top down. This means employees at every level were involved in the collaboration, from frontline staff to executives.

At its core, data visualization is made for collaboration. When top-level and granular data sets are easy to access and understand, every stakeholder is one the same page. A perfect example of this is a project management dashboard. Successful projects run on collaboration. With the help of a project management dashboard, every member of your team can access and assess timeline, budget, resource, and quality control data at any time. With a project management dashboard, information sharing becomes second nature, so each department and team member can focus on meeting their goals instead of searching for information.

A 19th Century Example of City Data Visualization

Cholera Data VisualizationOver the years, data sharing for cities has changed, and this includes the tools available to local governments. Data visualization as we know it today is relatively new, but using visualized data to make important decisions in city planning dates back as far as Victorian London.

As it turns out, John Snow did know something, and it didn’t have anything to do with the Iron Throne. During the cholera outbreak in Victorian London, a physician named John Snow developed what experts consider the birth of epidemiology, as we know it today. In short, Snow created a map of London based on the theory that cholera spread through contaminated water. He then mapped the public wells surrounding his house, examined samples from each, and had the handle removed from a well that contained the cholera bacteria. The outbreak quickly subsided, bolstering Snow’s original theory. Today, Snow’s map isn’t protecting Londoners from cholera, but it does show us how important data and data visualization are for city planners and leaders.

What Should a Smart City Data Visualization Look Like?

Like any dashboard, a city dashboard – such as the Mayor’s Dashboard from Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team – should focus on the needs and interests of the user. What is important to citizens? What concerns them the most? How can local leaders build their trust? The answers to these questions point to the kind of data your city or government dashboard should include, such as city services and public safety:

  • Streetlight outages
  • Traffic light outages
  • Graffiti removal
  • Theft / homicide rates
  • Repaired potholes
  • Veterans services calls
  • Senior transportation statistics
  • Demographic information
  • Budget allocation

A primary goal of any smart city dashboard is to gauge the success of its leadership, each departments, and improvement projects. Additionally, visualizing public data can aid in identifying correlating issues, leading to better problem solving and project planning.  With the help of the right data visualization and reporting tools, local leaders and municipalities can take raw data, give it to citizens, and turn it into decisions that influence the lives of people in meaningful ways.

To learn more about data visualization for municipalities, check out our government dashboards page for additional insights.

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Jennifer Horne Sr. Digital Marketing Coordinator @iDashboards

Jennifer Horne handles SEO, PPC, content and digital marketing for iDashboards. She has won multiple 30 Rock trivia competitions, makes a mean green curry, and loves living in Detroit.


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