FWDThinking Episode 24: Design and data for government innovation

Alistair Croll in conversation with Melissa Bridges and Kord Davis.

All opinions expressed in these episodes are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the organizations for which our guests work.

[00:00:00] Alistair Croll: Hi and welcome to our final [00:00:10] FWDThinking discussion for 2021. I am thrilled to welcome today both Kord Davis and Melissa Bridges. We were hoping to get them to [00:00:20] speak at FWD50 and run workshops there but when that didn’t work out, we decided it would be great to get them on for a conversation about some of the work they’ve been doing around data [00:00:30] privacy and workshops with different organizations. I’m sure it’s gonna be a wide reading ranging conversation. So I’d love to bring Kord and Melissa on and we can talk a little bit about what they’ve been up to. Hi [00:00:40] Kord. Hi Melissa. Thanks for, so thanks for being here. It’s too bad. We couldn’t get you on stage at FWD50. It [00:00:50] was a great conference. I’m sure we’ll get you there sometimes. But before we get started, why don’t the two of you? Tell us a little bit about yourselves and the work you do?.

[00:00:58] Melissa Bridges: I [00:01:00] guess I’ll go first. I’m Melissa Bridges. I am the former now performance and innovation coordinator for the city of Little Rock. What that means is I [00:01:10] was essentially the defacto chief data officer, chief performance officer and chief innovation officer all rolled into one. Held that position for about six years ran our open [00:01:20] data performance and lean process improvement, innovation work, and have just recently transitioned out of local government and into the private sector and [00:01:30] am a senior client success manager for Tyler technologies.

[00:01:35] Alistair Croll: Awesome. And Kord what do you do and how do you know Melissa. 

[00:01:39] Kord Davis: Great. [00:01:40] Yeah. Thank you. I’m an independent consultant and I’ve been working in a data literacy and analysis education primarily [00:01:50] for about four years now. I met Melissa at Little Rock about four years ago. She was the client sponsor [00:02:00] and lead stakeholder for a series of data workshops that we did together. That kind of snowballed [00:02:10] and grew into a a program that she and I collaborated on designing, and that was implemented at the city of Little Rock which I imagine [00:02:20] we will talk in significant, more detail shortly. 

[00:02:25] Alistair Croll: And Kord, you’ve written a book on the ethics of big data that talks [00:02:30] about the trade offs there. So maybe just quickly you can talk about the work you’ve done and why there’s such a trade-off. 

[00:02:38] Kord Davis: Yeah, I think one of [00:02:40] the, one of the outcomes. So the book came out about 10 years ago, 11 years ago now. And I think one of the outcomes of that work that I did [00:02:50] initially thinking about some of the ethical implications of big data, where then we realized that the degree of understanding about how data [00:03:00] works in our lives amongst the working population and, and most people in most types of [00:03:10] organizations needed to be increased. There needed to be greater awareness greater, agility and ability to not [00:03:20] only talk about data with coworkers, but also to understand the implications of various kinds of data analysis and most [00:03:30] significantly to improve ways in which individuals can communicate, not only the analysis that they’ve done, but to tell stories about [00:03:40] how that data is being influencing policies and procedures and business processes and, and all manner of things. And [00:03:50] I was I was hired to design a data academy for an organization that was acquired by Tyler technologies. That’s how [00:04:00] Melissa and I came into, came to know each other. And I’m, I’m excited about talking about some of the ways in which Melissa [00:04:10] saw those changes in the increase in data literacy, helped the city of Little Rock.

[00:04:16] Alistair Croll: So, Melissa you obviously had quite a broad [00:04:20] purview, like a lot of responsibilities in Little Rock. Can you talk to me about the changes in culture use? Around the use of data to make decisions at the [00:04:30] start of your tenure and at the end of it? 

[00:04:33] Melissa Bridges: Sure. I would say that at the beginning, when we kind of started down this road, not six years ago [00:04:40] I was in the role of the network security manager. So my mindset was of that, of protect the data, keep the data and don’t share the data, keep it all unto itself. [00:04:50] And I think kind of that mindset shift had to, to cross over, to know there’s cross collaborations here that need to be [00:05:00] taking place. There’s things that are happening in our community that not only involved the police department, but also involve maybe our code enforcement division. And [00:05:10] it may all happen at the same exact street address. And it’s getting touched by multiple points that are creating additional data points. But nobody had insights into each [00:05:20] other’s information to be able to have that additional knowledge. So I think a lot of the work was around just having those conversations with the individual [00:05:30] departments to say, what would it take?

What would it make? How could we make your job easier? If you, as a firefighter showed up at my home [00:05:40] and you had additional pieces of information about things that have happened at that address as far as the city’s concerned, whether it be past police incidents, past [00:05:50] 311 non safety requests that I’ve put in just additional data points that might give a more holistic view into [00:06:00] what they’re walking into as a city employee, whether it’s again, public safety or, or planning permit or those types of things. So there was definitely a mind shift that had to take [00:06:10] place amongst the entire organization. The thing that I think is kind of unique about Little Rock and something that was kind of unique about as I was having conversations with other cities and [00:06:20] other local governments across the country. Was we actually at the time had a police chief that truly believed in that cross collaboration breaking down those silos [00:06:30] and he was actually one of our biggest champions of no, no, you guys can all have my information. Let, let me make sure that I’m sharing what I have freely whereas most other entities, [00:06:40] that’s the very last department that wants to share their information because they think, oh no, we’re special, we’re the police or, or public safety, we can’t get that information out. So it was really [00:06:50] nice cause we kind of had. Inside track to be able to have that departmental level champion that understood the benefit of having that other operational information with [00:07:00] us. 

[00:07:02] Alistair Croll: So, getting the right people at the table is obviously a huge factor. And you were lucky enough to have someone who kind of believed in [00:07:10] that stuff. Do you have any concrete we’ll we’ll come back to that in a sec, but can you make some concrete examples of like things that actually happened? Do you have like real world outcomes from this kind of [00:07:20] change that you made?

[00:07:21] Melissa Bridges: Absolutely. So probably the most recent one that that’s been going on in Little Rock. We like every other city across the country [00:07:30] have seen an uptake in violent crime. A lot of that’s been driven by the pandemic the last couple of years in different pressures that are now on. Having [00:07:40] families together in spaces that weren’t used to being in spaces together all the time. So the thought was okay, well, the police department is [00:07:50] responding to this, but the police department cannot take care of every issue, especially because there’s a lot of social pieces that go to that and, and economic pieces that go to that. [00:08:00] So one of the things that we did early in 2021 was say, okay, what are these addresses that we’re seeing over and over and over again, come up in our system and having to have [00:08:10] responses come to. And so actually the police department, our fire department and our housing and neighborhood programs department, specifically with the code enforcement office. [00:08:20] All teamed up together and said, let’s get tactical about this. Let’s look at those addresses that we’re seeing these repeat issues and start drilling down a [00:08:30] little bit deeper and see if we can figure out: is there a root cause that’s driving either this higher number of code issues that are happening or these higher number of domestic violence calls that are happening. [00:08:40] And they all started going out kind of in little SWAT teams, for lack of a better way of saying it and going to those sites and doing all hands on [00:08:50] deck inspections, we’ve got a couple of large apartment complexes that were having issues. So they’d go in and work with the apartment management and say: “Hey, look, you’ve got these safety life safety [00:09:00] issues that are happening as far as things that we’re seeing on the property, and that may be driving some of these crime issues”. And so the city kind of took a different perspective at it and came together as [00:09:10] a team approach. One of the early projects that, that Kord was actually a part of that came out of one of our very first data academy. I was [00:09:20] gathering different folks from different departments. Frontline employees, boots on the ground, folks that are out in the field to backend people that were doing purchase orders and those types [00:09:30] things that wouldn’t necessarily be in a room together and looking in, we specifically drilled in, on a place. And we started with here’s this neighborhood that we [00:09:40] know has various asundry issues it. But let’s look at it from every different angle that we can look at and see what information do we have. We actually had some folks from some local [00:09:50] nonprofits that were in the room as well in the local university, so that they could kind of bring their perspective to the table.

And we looked at thinking, oh, okay, [00:10:00] well, the number one thing that’s going to come out of this conversation is there’s, there’s going to be crime and we’re going to have to figure out that issue. But low and behold, through the course of the two days and looking at the [00:10:10] information and doing the projects and having those different perspectives together, the X on the map moved slightly and it shifted itself to a specific [00:10:20] neighborhood. So we reached out to that neighborhood association and said, Hey, Would you mind if we came and talked to you because we’ve kind of done this initial internal analysis and we [00:10:30] think this is what’s happening. This is what we’re seeing in the data, but we want to kind of have a gut check with you all and have that conversation and see is this truly what’s happening? And so [00:10:40] we actually ran a half day workshop with those neighborhood. People using, again, some of the human centered design skills and some of those open-ended questions [00:10:50] and figuring out how to have those conversations, because most folks, when you say the word data it’s plays over out in the neighborhood, but having questions about [00:11:00] help me prioritize. What are the important things in your neighborhood? Is it that you’re missing the sidewalk? Is it that your streetlight is out? Is it that you want more police presence? Is it that you’ve got a lot of [00:11:10] rent rental property in the neighborhood and through that process of being able to have those folks in the room and have our people that had done that initial analysis, the [00:11:20] number one priority that popped up was the fact that the neighborhood felt that their neighborhood was unsafe because it was so dark at night. There was a school adjacent to [00:11:30] the neighborhood and the parents didn’t feel safe picking their children up and walking back into the neighborhood. They didn’t feel safe going out at night because it was so dark and come [00:11:40] to find out the streetlights were out and they didn’t understand the process of interacting with the city to get their streetlights out. And it was as simple as either a phone call or using a [00:11:50] mobile app. And so we partnered with them. And again, because of the safety issue, they didn’t feel good enough going out and going through their neighborhood to put all those [00:12:00] requests in. So we partnered with a local university and a fraternity that was there and got some kids that needed some community service hours to come out on a weekend. [00:12:10] Yeah, we use Google street maps and created a route and went systematically through that neighborhood to be able to input those requests for them and then follow up and track that [00:12:20] information on the backend so that they could see you’re getting this service that you told us was your number one priority, and let’s follow up and continue to make sure that your lights stay [00:12:30] on. And then we kind of were able to build on that and create this whole campaign called lights on little rock that we could then take out to all of our neighborhood associations and marketed it to all [00:12:40] 168 of them and said: “Hey, if you’ve got this issue in your neighborhood, here’s a little four page instruction on how you too can create your own route map.” [00:12:50] and one of the neighborhoods that I thought was just great because I have kids one of the moms and her son took it on and it became kind of like a [00:13:00] Pokemon go, let’s go find the out street lights and put them into the 311 map and make sure that folks know that they’re there. And then a week later they were able to see the truck show up, to fix the [00:13:10] lights, and we’re able to take that.

[00:13:10] Alistair Croll: It’s amazing. We actually had a, there’s a, an organization called DTPR. Jackie Lu, spoke about it. It’s, [00:13:20] it’s basically an open source standard for things in our world. So like there may be a traffic light camera, but it’s just scenario. You don’t have any recourse and, [00:13:30] and they’re setting up QR codes for everything. So you go, this traffic light camera was installed by these people. It collects this information. Here’s how to find out about it. And it does seem like as we have interactive [00:13:40] tools, the possibilities for getting a community to engage with the public sector environment that surrounds it and make them feel like they’re not just, you know, [00:13:50] having this voice that upon them, but actively curating and caring for the infrastructure is, is kind of empowering in some ways, you know, it makes people feel less helpless and just that the, and [00:14:00] that kind of thing probably restores trust in democracy in some ways, because now you’re like, I’m a part of this.

[00:14:07] Melissa Bridges: Exactly. And that’s what we found through going [00:14:10] out and talking to all the different neighborhood groups. The question I would always ask, because I’d see everyone had a mobile device latent in front of them. And I would ask, do you know about [00:14:20] 311? Do you know about the app? And usually that half the people in the room a) had never heard that they could ask for that service from the city and b) they didn’t know how to download the app and put it [00:14:30] on her phone. So that was something that I could show them how to do in five minutes or less. And, and to your point, yeah, they, they became owners. And went, oh, I can put in a request to get something [00:14:40] cleaned up in my neighborhood. Oh, I can put a request in, because I see something broken in a park and they finally felt like they were a part of the solution instead of just feeling helpless about it. So it [00:14:50] was very empowering. 

[00:14:51] Kord Davis: Melissa, could you talk a little bit about, so these are, these are awesome outcomes and we’ve given about 20 [00:15:00] of these kinds of workshops in about a dozen different cities across the country. And we designed the workshop experience [00:15:10] very specifically using human centered design and design thinking tools and approaches you know, structured agendas and, and, you know, [00:15:20] all manner of, of tools and tips and tricks.We, and we’ve seen these kind of very real world, almost immediately practical [00:15:30] outcomes in, in many different areas, many different cities in many different at many different levels of the organization. Could you talk a little bit [00:15:40] about your experience from the first? I see, I seem to remember the first time we, we call we, we had an initial call to talk [00:15:50] about how we were going to do this workshop. After we gotten to know each other for awhile, you admitted that you had no idea what we were talking about or how we were going to do it, but that then, [00:16:00] you know, when you saw it in person you saw that, you know, the, the cross-collaboration between individuals who were [00:16:10] passionate about a particular issue in their community, but didn’t know that there were other people in other departments who were equally passionate. They all of a sudden got together and, [00:16:20] and, you know, they’re, they’re building relationships and they’re practicing better data communication. Could you talk a little bit about about how [00:16:30] that process and that experience went for you? 

[00:16:33] Melissa Bridges: Yeah, and I think that’s a really great way to describe it. Because I think when [00:16:40] ,myself included, even though I was the quote unquote data person, heard the words, data academy, I’m thinking, okay, where you you’re going to teach us how to do SQL [00:16:50] queries or how to, how to use R or Python or figure out how to visualize or, or those type things and not necessarily how to understand [00:17:00] what questions to ask. 

[00:17:01] Kord Davis: Well, I remember, so I think we’ve done four. We, we did four in Little Rock. I remember the very first one. [00:17:10] Somebody, you know, we, we do a Plus/Delta pro con at the end of all the workshops and their feedback was I [00:17:20] was, I was told to be here in this workshop and I didn’t think I was qualified because I don’t know anything about, you [00:17:30] know, Excel or SQL or data or whatever. But now I understand that data operates in my job as a code enforcement officer in, in ways that I [00:17:40] didn’t really understand, which I thought was pretty awesome for somebody to be able to make that transition. 

[00:17:44] Melissa Bridges: Yeah, that was Carla. She was, she was our code enforcement officer that was actually in [00:17:50] charge of the physical area where we held the class at. Carla’s gut reaction cause she called me when she got the invitation and said, oh my God, Melissa, what [00:18:00] are you making me come to? I don’t, I don’t know what this is. And you’re using the word data and that scares me. And I said, no, no, it’ll be okay. It’ll be okay. This is about figuring out how to work better together. [00:18:10] And, and yeah, she became the star and actually I’ve still got a magnet on my refrigerator because she was driving home for more thinking about all the [00:18:20] things that we had talked about those two days and came up with this acronym that said little rock let’s make some noise. And it was neighborhood neighbors organizing together to make a safe environment. [00:18:30] And I was like, oh my gosh, this is brilliant. You became the rock star. There you go. That’s it. I love it. I look at it every day and [00:18:40] think that came from Carla, who was the person who said, I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say the word data, and once she got in there and understood, oh, [00:18:50] I’m the one that has the operational knowledge, because it’s out driving the streets, walking the streets every day and know who these people that live at these addresses that you [00:19:00] have, all of this information on actually are and what the actual, 

[00:19:04] Kord Davis: My, my other favorite experience had happened all the time around that collaborative interaction [00:19:10] was. The way we set it up was that we asked people to do a little, affinity mapping and [00:19:20] somevoting to pick the topics that they wanted to work on. And they got to opt into the small groups or small teams that represented the issues that they were [00:19:30] most interested in. And almost every time we would take a little break and we would ask people, you know, how are you doing? Where are you at? And they would say, [00:19:40] This is great. We’re, we’re really engaged in this. We have this data and this data, but it would be really cool if we have this other kind of data, too. [00:19:50] And eight times out of 10, somebody cross the room would go, oh, we have that in our department. And they would go really? I would say, yeah, let [00:20:00] me go ahead and give that to you. So, you know, just increasing awareness and the ability to talk about. You know, data questions and, and [00:20:10] data problem statements. It really underscored, you know, one of our one of our top three sort of headlines is [00:20:20] from, you know, DJ Patil: “Data is a team sport.” and it really underscored that reality to people who don’t normally work [00:20:30] with data every day in their, in their day jobs that it’s very much a collaborative conversation between people with multiple skillsets and [00:20:40] multiple perspectives that allow that, that fuller data narrative to, to come to the top.

[00:20:47] Melissa Bridges: Yeah. And I think the other thing that, that was very [00:20:50] organic in those conversations, that that was amazing for me, somebody that had had 15 years of public service and well, I don’t know that I was [00:21:00] ever jaded because I’m very much the Pollyanna I’m going to go save the world person. It was, I always told everybody in my title, I had the word [00:21:10] performance and it had the word innovation that I also had the work coordinator. And to me, that was the most important of the three words because it was that connection piece. And it was, [00:21:20] to your point, figuring out what was that piece of the puzzle that they were missing because we, the group that came together with that idea of “hey, let’s [00:21:30] go talk to this neighborhood”. Included somebody from our sustainability office. He was all about telling people about how to recycle have purchasing manager from the [00:21:40] zoo on it had one of our GIS folks had our intern at the time. It was a very diverse cross dimensional [00:21:50] group. And some of the folks from the outside that came in, we had some, some students from the computer science department at the local university, so that they [00:22:00] could understand, oh, this is what I might be able to use my degree for one day, be able to stay in my local community and help because there’s opportunities to use this skill set that I’m [00:22:10] learning. And we had a volunteer who is in charge of one of the programs that the local AARP office, because we said, all right, well, let’s get that perspective. [00:22:20] One of the other folks that we had was from the Arkansas health information group that came in because they were coming at it, [00:22:30] looking from a health perspective because they knew that they had information. And while most of the information that they had was protected private information that they couldn’t necessarily freely share with us, [00:22:40] they had some higher level demographic information that they knew that they had available, that they might be able to share with the city so that we could get an idea of what [00:22:50] health information do we have about the people that live in these neighborhoods? Cause we knew from a city perspective what information we had, but we were missing some of those other [00:23:00] components to get a more holistic resident. Yeah. 

[00:23:04] Kord Davis: And that, that diversity of participants and levels of expertise and [00:23:10] experiences, I feel like one of the one of the strongest arguments in favor of taking this approach to data literacy and [00:23:20] data education around, you know, human centered design and design thinking approaches because let’s face it. A lot of people are not super [00:23:30] familiar with the workshop approach. They’re not super, you know, the words, design thinking seem a little woo. You know, people are often skeptical in the beginning. [00:23:40] But when, when you can see in a real world situation, that that wide variety of people with that wide variety of access to a wide [00:23:50] variety of data could come together to create a strong and compelling narrative that, that it helps to build consensus around [00:24:00] community. It helps to deepen the collaboration and, and, and the culture of data in an organization. And I would just, you know, I thought the way you [00:24:10] did that a little bits at a time. You know, one of our other headlines is just start doing it. Collaboration is free. [00:24:20] Don’t announce that next Tuesday at noon, you’re going to be a data-driven organization. Start with little projects, start with a little datasets, and pretty [00:24:30] soon people are noticing that, you know, that’s actually pretty effective and you guys seem to be like, you’re having fun at work so maybe I want to try and do it that way [00:24:40] too. 

[00:24:41] Melissa Bridges: And I think that’s one of the other things that came out of having that diverse group of folks in the room because again, we had everybody from, from [00:24:50] frontline to, to higher up management that didn’t necessarily know who each other were. I knew them because my position sat in the [00:25:00] middle of the organization. And so I don’t want to touch points, but they didn’t necessarily know each other. And they didn’t know who to talk to when they needed things, because [00:25:10] 

[00:25:10] Kord Davis: We didn’t know who to call.

[00:25:11] Melissa Bridges: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Not only were our residents feeling that I don’t know who to call the city to ask for stuff, but our own internal folks didn’t know. And [00:25:20] so I think the other big part of it was as we were having those conversations around, oh, you need this piece or, oh, I’m the owner of that or, yeah, I can help you. That’s [00:25:30] also where some of the data quality work came in as well, because I know one of the data sets that we were looking at that we were trying to figure out, how does this fit into that conversation? Was the [00:25:40] business license status ad working through the treasury manager. Who’s the owner of that information and her being able to share that out with me, we were able [00:25:50] to initially see, oh my gosh. Yeah, we’ve got some major data quality issues here, and you don’t have any standard procedures in place. That was a whole part of the [00:26:00] data culture that was missing at the city. And it’s a lot of organizations because it’s just kind of this, you produce this stuff, but you don’t think about on the front end, what are the [00:26:10] rules and the structures and privacy concerns and confidentiality and, and destruction when you’re done with it, those types of things about what should this looks [00:26:20] like and standardized. So we can compare apples to apples. 

I think Alistair has a question. 

[00:26:26] Alistair Croll: I have lots of questions. I think, first of all, [00:26:30] you think about DJ saying that it’s a team sport. It’s not just team sport. It’s iterative. Yeah, we’ll go in assuming they’re going to get an answer and leave as opposed to going to have a conversation with and about the [00:26:40] data. And then you realize something I don’t look at it’s actually that place over there. And who knew that this building, the problem in this building was the lighting by the school. Right? I love the idea [00:26:50] though. Everyone it’s like boiling the ocean, right? Like there’s so much you could do. I love your idea of like, let’s focus on this city bloc or let’s focus on this address and then [00:27:00] work back from that and generalize and say, we could do this for all addresses. This is the process. This is the data we need. So you almost create a microcosm as the first case study. The question [00:27:10] that I I have from this, I guess, is you’ve got privileged information in there. If you have a firefighter who knows that there was a domestic disturbance, that address which may affect how they move [00:27:20] in or whatever other, you know, that, that, you know, that there’s an issue with how garbage is collected and that, and then there’s a restaurant that’s had certain food rating who knows what the data is. [00:27:30] Some of that is in the public record. Some of it is confidential or privileged in some ways. How do you, how do you first of all, [00:27:40] decide if you’re allowed to look at it, decide who should see it, and then like retroactively put it in some kind of governance so that you’ve got permission controls because challenge of the data, [00:27:50] as I’m sure you both know are often not the data. But who can see it. And how do you control permissions? That’s where that’s where it gets really complicated. So how did you [00:28:00] get past the sort of initial optimism where people are making fridge magnets, and calling each other on the way home from the meeting cause it’s so good into the old way. Now we need governance and policies and [00:28:10] all that role-based administration. How did, how do you, how do you deal with the hangover? I guess 

[00:28:16] Melissa Bridges: I think that was kind of the cool part about me having [00:28:20] worn the network security manager hat first. Because I had been so heavily into that thought process of, oh, this is PII. Oh, [00:28:30] this is PCI. I mean, it’s you name an acronym? And we were trying to figure out how do we secure it? How do we make sure that nobody has access, that they shouldn’t have access to and making sure that [00:28:40] people had the education that they needed to understand why you can’t give out that information. And our business license data set is a perfect example of that. It was [00:28:50] really good learning experience for that division because they knew that the city was doing this open data thing. Oh, we’ve got to get that out there because that’s stuff that people ask for all the [00:29:00] time. And so their initial thought was, well, we can just plop that in an Excel spreadsheet and put a link to it out on our, our website. And folks can just download it from there. I happened to actually [00:29:10] trip upon it one day. And looked at it and I went, you’ve got personal email addresses and personal cellphone. No, no, no, no, [00:29:20] no. And had to make a quick phone call and say, this needs to come down and needs to come down now. And this is why so there was, there was kind of that thought around it. And then the [00:29:30] good part was when we truly started down this road, the very first thing we did with help from the sunlight foundation was actually stand up [00:29:40] and open data policy, which required us to create a data governance committee. And thank goodness that the person at the time who was our representative from our city attorney’s [00:29:50] office or deputy city attorney got it. He understood why we were trying to do it because we, as a local government entity, we’re happy to deal with freedom of information requests all the [00:30:00] time and that balance of what can you give out what can’t you and Arkansas state has one of the most open freedom of information laws on the books. I think [00:30:10] Florida is maybe the only one that’s wider, open than ours, because it’s the fault open everything. So, but he got it and he understood. And [00:30:20] while it took a minute to figure out, okay, what, what is, and what’s not to your point, we had to make some conscious decisions as the governance group about well, [00:30:30] while this technically would be releasable under FOYA, it’s not best practice to use it inopen data. It’s not best practice to put it out [00:30:40] publicly. A good example of that is one of their services that you can request if you are an elderly person, or if you’re someone that has a disability and you need [00:30:50] assistance, getting your garbage to the curb so that our automated trucks can come pick it up. We will come by and we will do that. We did not want to [00:31:00] publicize the addresses of where that service was being put, because that might make them a vulnerable person. Same thing for instances [00:31:10] of we didn’t want, want to publicize the address of any of the victims that had been a victim of that particular crime and any associated crime that might’ve [00:31:20] happened in the, in the progress of that. So we stripped all addresses from that. We would still report, there was a rape that happened on this day at this time, but we would [00:31:30] strip all the information out so that it wouldn’t become identifiable. One of the last data sets that I worked on before I transitioned out of the city was [00:31:40] our 911 calls are our CAD information. And to your point about things being iterative national best practices now to anonymize that [00:31:50] information, it’s not to say this happened at 1 123 main street. It’s the say it happened in the 100 block of mainstream and.

[00:31:57] Kord Davis: Hey, Melissa sorry [00:32:00] tointerrupted stepping back real quick. On the, on the question of the process of how the data governance committee made [00:32:10] certain decisions. Could you talk just a little bit about that? I mean, was that, was that an open discussion and a debate about whether or not we should have addresses where violent [00:32:20] crimes took place and, and was that on a case by case basis or was there some kind of framework that you and I actually haven’t talked about that part of it too much. I know [00:32:30] you had a whole active group of data governance folks that met on a regular basis. And I’m just kinda curious to peek inside that. 

[00:32:39] Melissa Bridges: Yeah. [00:32:40] That was actually a really iterative thing as well cause when we very first stood up that group again, the thought was, oh, this is a new thing. We’ve got to have the department directors at the [00:32:50] table because they’re the ones that are gonna lead the charge on this. So it was kind of a voluntold situation from the city manager to those department heads, thou shalt, [00:33:00] and they’ll shout once a month. And Melissa will let you know when you show up and you participate. 

[00:33:05] Alistair Croll: Voluntold all in total. That’s a new one to me. Yeah. [00:33:10] 

[00:33:11] Melissa Bridges: So good. Because I literally had some folks falling asleep in the meeting. So kind of took a step back and [00:33:20] said, Hmm. Yeah, no, I don’t think this is going to work and had to go. Who were those people in the departments that may not necessarily be at the top? They may be a layer or two or all the way at the [00:33:30] bottom that get it, that might’ve come from a data academy that might’ve shown up from one of our lunch and learns that might’ve had a conversation, but that understand what [00:33:40] the heck it is we’re trying to do. And so we replaced them slowly but surely on that data governance group and gave them a set of education that they had to go [00:33:50] through to have that seat and participate. And it became a requirement that they did that education. It was through national organizations that we were [00:34:00] participating in that had best practices around all these different things. So that gave it more form and structure and framework. But then to court, to your point, as those conversations [00:34:10] came up, the process was if we had a new data set that was getting ready to get published, part of the process was it had to run through government. It had to be an open [00:34:20] discussion of all of those people. And we had to go through that kind of plus Delta conversation. What are the pros of this? One of the cons of this, we know we want to default to open, but where does that [00:34:30] factor come in? Where does this crossing the line and putting somebody at risk by putting this information out, come in. And so that was kind of the balancing act that we had to [00:34:40] do with every piece of information that we were putting out.

[00:34:42] Kord Davis: So full-time job. 

[00:34:45] Alistair Croll: So we got to wrap up soon, but I did want to underscore, you know, there’s been a lot of [00:34:50] talk about rethinking how policing is happening that not every 911 needs to wind up with, you know, someone with a gun out. And it [00:35:00] seems to me like the key to solving this is context that when you know that this would be better served by a social worker or that this thing’s supervision, this one’s not. [00:35:10] You know, what kind of environment you’re going into for anybody that just seems like, you know, taking a big step back instead of taking a [00:35:20] polarizing position one way or the other, taking a step back and saying, how do we get more context that we get more people in the room? And then when those people are the right people to have in the room, but they maybe aren’t as literate in data, getting [00:35:30] them trained up on it is a really good progressive step for any city. So in terms of what’s happened since this kind of data was in [00:35:40] place in Little Rock, have you seen changes in policing, in emergency response in costs, in citizens’ sort of satisfaction? How has that turned [00:35:50] out? 

[00:35:50] Melissa Bridges: Definitely on, on the public safety side of it, there’s been two, actually three major things that have happened through through this process. [00:36:00] Our different departments, including our public safety departments have hired full-time data people to help them understand what do we have? What are we doing with it? What does [00:36:10] that mean? And how can we make better decisions? Our police department took it one step further. And to your point actually hired social workers that will help [00:36:20] sit in the 911 center or listen to those calls and figure out this is a mental health call. This is not a, I need somebody with a gun to show up call and or do ride alongs with [00:36:30] our, our, our uniformed officers to correspond potentially. Because we have a pretty good homeless population here and being the capital city, we also get a lot of the [00:36:40] re-entry population. So we’re trying to figure out how do we co- respond? And the other piece of it is our 911 center was always historically, part of it was a [00:36:50] division in our police. That has now changed. It’s now moved out from underneath them and they’ve hired a civilian communications manager that is in charge of that. [00:37:00] And she actually reports underneath the fire department because the fire department is they’re all EMT trained. They 80 over 85% of their calls are medical calls, [00:37:10] not fire medic. So they come at it from just a different mindset. So there’s definitely been some shifts over the last couple of years, thinking. How do we do this better? Because we [00:37:20] know the kind of calls that we’re getting in and how do we actually respond with the right response?

[00:37:27] Alistair Croll: That’s amazing. And Kord, I want to ask [00:37:30] you quickly, we’ve talked a lot about these workshops. They seem to be magical. What goes into those workshops just briefly? Like how do you put those together and what do you find are the things that are most useful to [00:37:40] teach people? 

[00:37:41] Kord Davis: Yeah, that’s a great question. And if we had another hour, I could, I could answer that question. But I [00:37:50] think, I think the, probably the top couple of headlight items that are important are it’s intentionally [00:38:00] a collaborative experience from the very first phone call to the last time we walk out the door and that collaboration takes place between myself and my [00:38:10] team and the project sponsors like Melissa or other key stakeholders. And pretty much everyone is welcome to the table and that discussion. We [00:38:20] collaboratively co-create the agenda. We identify the topics. We talk about who the right people are to have in the room for that particular topic. [00:38:30] We talk about ways to motivate their participation and engagement. We collaborate directly through the workshop, [00:38:40] whether that’s a half day or the full two day one. And we try very much to involve everybody at every step of the way. I have [00:38:50] a 20 year background in, in human centered design and workshop facilitation. So I’ve pretty much done everything wrong at least once [00:39:00] which means I can see sometimes some gotchas that are coming down the road a little farther in advance. And I think having a, whether it’s [00:39:10] me or somebody else, you know, Melissa has a facilitation background. Some, many times folks in the workshop will have one. I think having that neutral [00:39:20] third party independent perspective on participation in the agenda and the topics and activities is also super critical. [00:39:30] That’s kind of a structural thing, you know, workshops on how to do workshops, but with respect to the data literacy and education piece, I think that [00:39:40] it’s super important to have folks like Melissa involved who have that data background and can help you structure things in a way that it’s going to be most appropriate for their [00:39:50] audience.

[00:39:50] Alistair Croll: Awesome. And I think everyone’s going to see why we were hopeful to get you on the curriculum for FWD50. Melissa, thank you so much for telling the story. It [00:40:00] sounds like amazing work and it kind of gives me hope. So I think I, I just want to end by saying don’t stop being a Pollyanna cause sometimes you’re right. But yeah, this is fantastic stuff. And [00:40:10] thank you both for joining us and and for sharing the experience with us. 

Thanks, [00:40:20] Alistair.

For over 10 years, Melissa Bridges worked for Little Rock, Arkansas. From a start in network security, she eventually became the city’s performance and innovation coordinator.

During that time, she began collaborating with  Kord Davis, an expert on data and design thinking and the co-founder of Signal Workshop, a consultancy that helps groups collaborate and innovate.  

In this packed conversation, Melissa and Kord reveal some of the ways their work has changed the city. In one example, encouraging data sharing among different groups (social work, policing, fire, and more) reduced police interventions and reduced arrests and altercations. In another, by picking a single city block, then diving deep into its systemic issues, they realized that fixing lighting had a significant impact on public safety.

Their work included nonprofits, and stakeholders whose input is often dismissed. And it was iterative—underscoring the notion that data is an ongoing conversation as new knowledge prompts new questions.

Ultimately, Kord and Melissa focused on practical results; got the right people in the room; and changed the culture to one of design thinking and data-informed decisions, with impressive results. You can listen to our conversation above for more details.