Riverside connects communities to sustainable open data

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riverside council

On March 7, 2017, Riverside’s City Council passed an open data proclamation. The announcement formalized its commitment to an upcoming resolution to proactively release open data and provide free access to the public.

Riverside, California is one of more than 50 What Works Cities working with the Sunlight Foundation to develop an open data policy. Thanks to strong support from Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, Riverside chief innovation officer Lea Deesing has improved the way data reaches Riverside’s residents by leading a team of developers and city administrative officials working side-by-side.

Innovation runs strong in Riverside

Screenshot of Engage Riverside

As the “City of Arts & Innovation,” Riverside had a strong foundation for innovating around open data prior to passing its proclamation, which formalized the City’s commitment. It’s no accident that GovTech named Riverside the 5th most digital city in America in 2016 among comparably-sized cities.

Riverside is one of just a few cities nation-wide with a municipal apps page dedicated to hosting Android and iPhone apps developed by in-house technical staff. Many of these apps offer easy access to city datasets like 311 requests, geolocated landmarks around town, or public meeting agendas. While many cities use open data portals as a first avenue for disclosure, Riverside has used its technical capacity to go above and beyond. This proclamation and upcoming open data policy to continue Riverside’s open data program will both enhance and prolong this work.

In our work with Riverside, we found the city’s staff are dedicated to meeting residents where they are, especially through their Engage Riverside online portal. In conjunction with the recent release of an updated 311 app, Riverside promoted the new app on Facebook, receiving positive feedback, and linked to a YouTube tutorial (above). Today, residents have both improved access to 311 data and new resources to use it.

Applying data to help people address problems works

Screenshot from riversidehomelesscounts.com

Two years ago, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey accepted President Barack Obama’s call to American cities to take up the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by the end of 2015.

Bailey worked with Riverside County to become the first large community to reach “functional zero” for veteran homelessness. Over that time, the city of Riverside worked with a range of community partners, applying intensive human and administrative resources to reach a shared goal of providing housing for 86 homeless veterans over the course of six months.

By the end of 2015, the City of Riverside had either housed or allocated resources for every homeless veteran in the city. National Guard Veteran David Oakley, who case managers helped house through the city’s effort, said having his own place was “kind of, to be honest, like a dream come true.”

That dream didn’t come to pass on its own. Riverside County, as a partner and the convening organization for larger local efforts to end homelessness, convened meetings to connecting the city to local service providers, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations to improve collaboration across sectors.

Volunteers who participated in the resulting efforts used maps generated from the city’s homelessness tracking data to find where homeless individuals were usually found to more efficiently match them with case managers and local resources.

Now that Riverside’s open data policy is established, sharing data with volunteers will be more streamlined in the future. Riverside is now working on homelessness prevention as part of a five year plan. A central goal in this plan is to improve the way data on homeless residents is collected for better tracking and apply that data to evaluate prevention services.

Cities need strong leadership to commit to collaboration

Open data champions play an important role in influencing internal city culture around data and technology. In Riverside, the city’s innovation department is supported by a strong IT team. A dedicated innovation officer and leadership at the mayoral and at the county level ensured that city staff interacted with the right partners inside and outside of City Hall to connect residents and practitioners to municipal data. Riverside’s leadership — and the staff who support them — worked hard to ensure that those most affected by city outreach and service provision weren’t left behind.

Residents of the Riverside now have continued, formalized access to city operations and data. Whether through fun apps or through new channels for collaboration on systemic issues like homelessness, Riverside is taking meaningful steps to connect its people to their own data.