June Volunteer Spotlight: Keri Shearer

This is the latest installment of a series highlighting volunteers with the Open Charlotte Brigade (OCB). OCB uses technology and advocacy as a tool for open government, open data and civic engagement.

Her status on Slack is “In the DAT Cave”, but Open Charlotte Brigade (OCB) volunteer Keri Shearer climbs out of it as often as she can.

In her role as IT Decision Analytics Manager for the City of Charlotte, Shearer works with a team to give Charlotteans access to data through Open Charlotte, the city’s open data portal. “We’re all really helpful people who want to do a good job,” she said. “We don’t always get out of our cubicle to do that. But that’s my goal. I push myself. And my team, I have a teammate that helps as well.”

Keri Shearer, Open Charlotte Brigade volunteer.

This is the first time the City has had a group dedicated to making decisions with analytics and providing pathways for accessible data and analytics — not only for sharing data internally but also with the public, Shearer said. Her group handles mapping, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, business intelligence and data warehousing.

“We’re still defining that role and what it really means,” Shearer said. “The whole concept is really in the name. It’s: How can we provide information to help each other make better decisions, to have informed employees, informed officials, (and) informed citizens? And we do that through being very open with our information, with our data, trying to provide data with a context.”

Volunteering with OCB has guided that work. Shearer got involved in 2014, when Code for America sent three fellows to the Queen City to create a civic tech project. That project became Citygram, a geographic notification platform to which residents can subscribe for updates on planned road closures, pending re-zonings or City of Charlotte Historic District Commission reviews. “What (the brigade) does is it connects me to the community because being in the department I’m in, we don’t necessarily interact with our citizens that often,” Shearer said. “But that’s where it helps because it helps me have that understanding, and I meet a lot of different people here. I get different ideas, too, from being here. So really it’s just an idea generator.”

And a springboard for feedback.

When Shearer and her team begin work on a new Open Data portal strategy, they might look to OCB for input on what is needed, she said. “Because this is the ideal group to use that data. I don’t want to put data out there that’s not useful or meaningful.”

Shearer’s involvement with OCB has also provided opportunities to make a difference.

“I think it’s a really good group,” she said. “It’s worth the time. Especially when there’s projects we think we can be involved in.”

One of the OCB projects Shearer is excited about it is Open Budget. “I think that’s going to be an interesting one because we’re also working behind the scenes at the City to pull together financial data, to look at that in different ways,” she said. “So we’re opening that up to each other and then we’re looking at ways that we can make that more accessible and blend it with other data, so it’s like human resource-type data or capital project data, neighborhood data.”

OCB has also been a source of personal development for Shearer. When she started with OCB, Shearer, who holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in geography, didn’t know much coding. “I really wanted to get back into coding, I thought,” she said. “So they inspired me.”

Shearer decided to enroll in an eight-week coding boot camp, which covered everything from Ruby and JavaScript to html and website development. Within the same month she was taking classes, Shearer transitioned jobs. After more than eight years in the City’s Storm Water Services division, she became Geographic Information System (GIS) Administrator. She landed her current position in 2016.

“I was very lucky,” Shearer said. “To be enthusiastic, to be in the right place at the right time and to be in this culture change that the city is going through as far as data and analytics.”

When not delving deep into data, Shearer, 43, can be found hiking, bike riding or otherwise spending time with her husband and 13-year-old son. “My next investment will be kayaks so we can hit the lake!”

Would you like to join Shearer and the rest of the OCB volunteer team? Find your niche by stopping by one of our Tuesday Community Action Nights, or request a Slack invite at info@codeforcharlotte.org.