Civic Sandbox Field Report: Tackling Data Problems with Cities

Stephen Larrick
City as a Service
Published in
7 min readAug 20, 2019


5 Stories from our first Stae Civic Sandbox cohort
by Stephen Larrick, Adriana Valdez Young, and Ann Martin Skelly

How might civic data—and better tools to manage and share it—help achieve community goals? Back in the spring, we started the Stae Civic Data Sandbox with this one question, five local government partners, and six months to experiment. Our goal was to explore how this inquiry-based approach to using the Stae platform could help inform decision-making, build technical capacity, and enhance civic participation in local government, all while informing our product roadmap with feedback from users. Here, we share the progress we achieved with our government partners and our learnings along the way.

Detail from the interactive data story, featuring qualitative and quantitative data on San Francisco’s parklets (full website to be published for (PARK)ing Day on September 20th).

Using Public Data to Shape Public Space

San Francisco Planning Department | San Francisco, CA

City Challenge:
How might we use data alongside qualitative approaches to better understand public space and encourage diverse community participation in its creation and programming?

Project Snapshot:
Building on our previous work with Gehl Institute, we worked with the San Francisco Planning Department to standardize and share their geodatabase of data collected on public life. Together with the human-centered design studio, Openbox, we iterated on ways the city and the public can use this data alongside qualitative research to tell compelling stories about the successes and challenges of the San Francisco’s smallest public spaces: parklets. Our ultimate goal was to support SF Planning in using data to inform public-space policy and design going forward. We identified factors that contribute to making San Francisco’s parklets successful, as well as how the program might encourage more diverse parklet sponsorship to ensure that these public spaces are designed and administered in ways that are equitable and inclusive. Finally, we developed an interactive data story that showcases how qualitative and quantitative data can be used together to evaluate city resources and impact. (Stay tuned for its publication in mid-September, just in time for PARK(ing) Day!)

Data Analysis & Qualitative Research Methods Applied:
- Integration and analysis of various data sources, including public life data, housing data, economic data, and census data;

- Qualitative design research: ethnographic observation, urban design analysis, intercepts and interviews, and storytelling;

- Stae Data Specification and Data Importer;

- Stae Data Exporter to connect to external data visualization and publishing tools.

Micromobility Monitoring and Management

Office of Performance and Innovation & the Mobility Team | Louisville, KY

GBFS Shared Vehicle locations (yellow) and bike lanes (purple) in Louisville, KY.

City Challenge:
How might we use data from e-scooter operators alongside other civic data to better manage a fledging micromobility program?

Project Snapshot:
As an official data partner to the Louisville Metro Government, we used the Stae platform to connect and normalize real-time data feeds from multiple micromobility vendors operating in the city (Bird, Lime, and Bolt) utilizing the Mobility Data Specification (MDS). Once the data was in Stae’s platform, our city partners could then easily map, visualize and set up alerts to monitor the e-scooter program, accessing a more accurate and up-to-date understanding of day-to-day trips, parking and operational zone violations, and equitable rebalancing distribution practices. By supporting customized report generation and alerts for enforcement, Stae is enabling a new kind of data-driven relationship between cities and mobility operators.

Data Management Methods Applied:
Stae Data Importer and one-click mobility integrations to connect city to real-time mobility data (MDS) feeds;

- Stae Data Normalization across multiple vendors (Bird, Lime, Bolt);

- Stae Real-time Alerting to support enforcement;

- Data QA and auditing to support permit fee assessment;

- Layering scooter data with other transportation data sources (e.g. speed limits, parking restrictions);

- Stae API/Data Exporter to connect to external data visualization and publishing tools and generate dashboards and reports.

E-valuating E-scooters

Transportation Division & IT Department | Greensboro, NC

Summary statistics for the City of Greensboro’s pilot program evaluating multiple scooter vendors.

City Challenge:
How might mobility data drive the evaluation of an e-scooter pilot program and inform future policy and planning?

Project Snapshot:
E-scooters first officially launched in the city of Greensboro, NC in January 2019, after the city created new legislation and issued permits to operators like Lime as part of a pilot program intended as a trial period to inform how the city charts a path forward. As the city looks to figure out its mobility future, Stae has helped the Transportation Division take stock of how scooters have been implemented so far.

Using the Stae Mobility Data Manager platform, we served as Greensboro’s official data partner for the e-scooter pilot. In this capacity Stae helped the city process real-time data feeds from Lime using the Mobility Data Specification (MDS). The ability to work with this data allows the Transportation Division to access more granular insights beyond the simple dashboard provided by Lime, giving the city more agency to conduct its own analysis and draw its own evaluative conclusions. We have provided weekly performance and trend reports to the Transportations Division and conducted month-over-month analysis to inform a more comprehensive e-scooter program evaluation report — to be published next month — as well. In addition to providing summary statistics of basic program operations, these reports include a close look at temporal trends (like daytime vs nighttime ridership, weekday vs weekend ridership, and school year vs summertime ridership) and spatial trends (like trip origin/destination hotspots, rebalance distribution, and most frequently travelled road segments). Without Stae, this data support that has been crucial to driving the city’s pilot program evaluation and future transportation planning would not have been possible.

Data Management Methods Applied:
Stae data importer and one-click mobility integration to connect city to real-time mobility data feeds from Lime;

- Layering Scooter Data with other transportation data sources (i.e. speed limits);

- Spatial and temporal data analysis;

- Stae API/data exporter to connect to external analysis, data visualization and publishing tools and generate reports, including maps, charts, and visualization.

Detailed heat map of potholes filled in Syracuse — data that helps inform service vehicle routes.

Building a Responsive City

Office of Accountability, Performance, and Innovation | Syracuse, NY

City Challenge:
How might we lay the foundation for a citywide smart sensor network?

Project Snapshot:
The City of Syracuse is in the process of installing thousands of streetlights equipped with smart sensor technology after purchasing its lighting network from National Grid earlier this year. With all this potential for real-time data on the horizon, the city’s chief officer, Sam Edelstein, wanted to start small and begin learning and prototyping by working with sensor APIs already available. We worked with Sam to create a dashboard of relevant real-time data, including the Verizon telematics network fleet feed for municipal vehicles data. This sensor data includes municipal vehicle locations as well as timestamps and coordinates for when the asphalt hose used to fill potholes is deployed in the field. Using these feeds alongside city 311 data in the Stae platform, we were able to create a real-time data dashboard and help Sam begin learning how new data might fit in with city operations. This work precedes the implementation of a grant from NY Power Authority to create a smart city demonstration project utilizing the new streetlight sensor network in Syracuse, and is helping to lay a foundation as the city begins to work with integrated, real-time feeds to support intelligent service delivery and maintenance.

Data Management Methods Applied:

- Stae Data Importer and real-time sensor integration;

- Stae maps and insights;

- Stae APIs to support a community hackathon

Detail from Jason’s story about his role using data to improve services in Guilford County :

Storytelling for Data Science

Office of Budget, Management, and Evaluation | Guilford County, NC

County Challenge:
How might we create a community practice around community data?

Project Snapshot:
We supported Jason Jones, the new Analytics and Innovation Manager, to build connections and a shared culture around his role of bringing data into the County’s workflows. We created storytelling and engagement tools to build awareness of Jason’s new approach to using data to improve service delivery. Specifically, we created print and digital assets to power his own “pop-up” data clinic, as well as imported his data feeds into Stae for easier sharing and analysis across the County. Some of the design assets we created for Jason include a journey map for how a department integrated data into their daily operations and a set of cards with the most commonly-accessed civic data types that he can use as a conversation starter with colleagues and the general public.

Data Management and Design Research Methods Applied:

- Stae Data Importer and Visualizer

- Design research, storytelling, graphic design, and video production

Next Steps
When we launched our Civic Data Sandbox program we set out to meet government staff where they are, help them take on a data challenge they are facing, and make sure our product continues to be built in ways that support the real technology needs of public servants. Six months later, we’ve learned a whole lot, and are a whole lot better for it. We’ve built new features, like integrations with smart sensor hardware and with mobility operator data feeds. We’ve improved our data importer with a new visual interface in response to feedback from our local government users. We’ve updated our charts and graphs functionality and improved our map features. We’ve expanded our data privacy policies and customer support offerings. All this was made possible by working alongside city officials every day. As we wrap up this first round of the Stae Civic Data Sandbox Program, we are grateful to all the government officials who have made this work possible, and are looking forward to what’s next!

If you manage data for a city or county and are interested in applying to be part of the next Civic Sandbox this fall, please reach out.



Stephen Larrick
City as a Service

People-centered cities/urban tech/open gov. currently: @staehere, formerly: @SunFoundation, @SunlightCities, @CentralFalls_RI. Would love to be your friend.