Louisville: A Data-Savvy Approach, from LouieLab to LouieStat
(Louisville went on to achieve What Works Cities Certification at the gold level in 2019. Learn more here.)
By Kristin Taylor
A loft-inspired space with exposed brick and a startup vibe isn’t what typically comes to mind when one thinks of a municipal building, but that’s exactly what the Louisville Metro Government has created in its LouieLab. The space is a hub where city employees, members of the civic tech community, and other innovators can come together to collaborate. It’s also a physical manifestation of the City’s efforts to open itself up to residents and strategize, together, on how to achieve shared goals for Louisville’s future.
Mayor Greg Fischer has a term for this: building social muscle. He believes that transparent communication fosters trust with the community. “It helps set the tone for what citizens should expect,” he says. He’s embedded that philosophy throughout his approach to using data, from signing an open data executive order that considers public information to be open by default to launching the City’s LouieStat performance management program, which evaluates departments’ work and shares progress with residents.
Chief Data Officer Michael Schnuerle knows firsthand the benefits of a strong social muscle. Cofounder of the local Code for America brigade, the Civic Data Alliance (CDA), he remembers, in the early 2000s, trying to articulate an idea. “I didn’t know what to call it yet,” he recalls. “I was making FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests, but I wanted a website where I could access information.” Years later, when such a tool still didn’t exist, he tweeted that, if the civic tech community had open 311 data in real time, it could see where people are reporting downed trees and help the city more quickly assess storm damage. Mayor Fischer saw the tweet, liked the idea, and teamed him up with Louisville’s IT Services Department to help develop the City’s open data portal.
Soon after, Schnuerle found himself being hired as the twelfth chief data officer in the country. Since then, he’s worked to expand the City’s open data efforts both internally and externally, and cultivate the civic tech community he came from with data requests and hackathons. The City’s Innovation Team also collaborates on CDA projects like helping visually impaired residents access open data through voice-automated smart-home systems like Alexa. “We are so data-driven,” says Schnuerle. “The Mayor always emphasizes analytics. Whenever I talk to him, he always wants to know what the data is and how are we collecting it.”
For Chief of Performance Improvement Daro Mott, who oversees LouieStat, analytics are practically a way of life. His team has trained a staff member in every city department on how to embed the use of data in their work and then to report on their progress. Fundamental to this work has been responding to Mayor Fischer’s call for a culture of “weakness orientation” that focuses on where to improve. Mott explains: “It’s not just data show-and-tell. It’s about asking: ‘How do we use this data over time to fundamentally get better?’”
At a recent LouieStat meeting, the Department of Corrections turned to its numbers to discuss, with Mott’s team, strategies for reducing overcrowding in facilities and unscheduled overtime expenditures. These were complex challenges, and the solutions wouldn’t come easily, but the data were already helping to outline a path forward. Amid the troubleshooting, Mott made sure there was also time to recognize a key win: when data previously revealed high rates of recidivism among certain vulnerable populations, the Department launched a program to ensure that former inmates were paired upon release with social service providers. Now they were beginning to see declines in reincarceration.
Now entering its seventh year, LouieStat is one of the nation’s longest-running CitiStat leadership strategies, and has 26 departments involved. “What gets measured gets done, especially if you take action to improve it,” says Mott. His team trains hundreds of employees each year on how to use a data-driven, seven-step problem-solving process to improve. LouieStat is empowered by a Learn and Grow series, Louisville’s own version of Denver’s Peak Academy. The City’s goal over the next few years is to make LouieStat the data-driven management system, not merely a series of forums or a program.
Mayor Fischer says that part of the City’s job is to celebrate success, but also to say where it can do better and then invite residents to be part of the solution. The City’s Innovation Team is finding creative ways to involve residents in tackling tough problems, sometimes by bringing them into the data-collection process itself. In one project, placing GPS-enabled sensors on asthma inhalers is helping to pinpoint areas throughout the city where low air quality is likelier to induce asthma attacks. In another project, built at a CDA hackathon, crowdsourcing data on internet speed is helping the City assess the extent of its digital divide and develop a digital inclusion strategy to remove the barriers that are keeping residents from better jobs and other opportunities.
In Louisville, every staff member one talks to seems to share the belief that, with residents at the core and data to guide the way, there’s nothing they cannot accomplish. “We’re small enough to get things done but big enough to matter,” Mott says. A guiding philosophy of the Fischer Administration is the theory of the job: the job consists of daily work, continuous improvement, and breakthrough (innovative) work. “Our data-driven transformation starts and ends with all aspects of measuring the job, and we have a big job to do,” says Mott.