The idea is to use data-gathering tools and expertise to better identify municipal problems and solutions and be more transparent with residents. Kansas City also is a participant in the $42 million, 18-month program, as are Denver, Las Vegas and more than a dozen other cities.
It’s like “Moneyball,” only for local governments. It sounds like a good idea.
The data revolution that popped up in baseball more than a decade ago is slowly spreading to almost every other human endeavor. The idea — using information and analytics to more fully understand and predict behaviors and performance — is now firmly embedded in private business, from retailers and marketers to medicine and education.
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Call it the Algorithm Age: Information is sliced, examined, reassembled, debated. Companies are making billions of dollars by watching your digital habits and selling the data to others.
Elections are part of the trend, of course. Voter behavior can now be modeled, and messages can be targeted to your phone or television. Data politics is cheaper and works better.
So we shouldn’t be surprised the data revolution has come to the government nearest to you. In a recent news release denouncing a proposal to put a planned downtown convention hotel to a public vote, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City said economic development projects should be judged “by collecting and analyzing data,” instead of by plebiscite.
Perhaps he’s right, but as any baseball executive (or fan) can tell you, relying on data alone isn’t always possible — or wise.
A few weeks ago, I talked with several experts about climate change. They said studies show crime will go up in a warmer climate, and cities will have to respond.
Data and common sense suggest adding police to reduce crime. Yet other studies show planting trees can cool a community, achieving a similar result. Which is the better approach?
Analyzing the data won’t help you answer that question. It’s a choice. Do you prefer living a city with more trees or more police?
Either response is valid, yet the decision would yield vastly different communities. Running a city, or a country, requires more than access to a better spreadsheet. Once you get the numbers, you still have to choose.
The information revolution will help all of us understand our options more clearly, but data aren’t destiny. As I write this, the Kansas City Royals still have lots of decisions to make. So do the people of Independence.