Mark Leech (@LeechMT) is the Application Development Manager for the City of Albuquerque, N.M. He’s been leading the City’s open data initiative, ABQ Data. Since launching in June 2012, the city has released 38 high-value datasets prioritized by citizen demand. By focusing on these high-value datasets, the City has seen great ROI on their open data so far — Leech reports more than $180,000 in 311 call center savings resulting from releasing often-requested transit datasets. Unusually, rather than going the typical route of using an open data catalog provider like Socrata or even open source CKAN, the city has pursued a scrappy do-it-yourself strategy (an approach former Chicago CDO Brett Goldstein calls “a model that I admire”). We asked Mark a few questions about how he’s pushing forward open data in Albuquerque:
How did you come to work in public service and what is your current role?
I’d already worked in local government IT in the UK before I moved to Albuquerque, N.M. in 2002. I’ve now been with the City of Albuquerque for 11 years in various IT roles. I am currently the Application Services Group Manager and spend much of my thought trying to understand how citizens and government will interact over the next few years.
You’ve bootstrapped an impressive open data initiative in Albuquerque — without any formal open data legislation, designated staff, or even a significant budget. What have been the guiding principles that have allowed you to achieve this success?
Our open data initiative is very much a collaboration (under the leadership of Mayor Richard J. Berry) between the Albuquerque community, City departments, and the IT depatment. More specifically, our Applications Services teams operate under four guiding principles: respect others, do the right thing, promote excellence, and challenge the assumptions. These principles mean that we always try to understand the expectations, hopes, and dreams of our customers while looking for ways in which we can act as facilitators and enablers instead of gatekeepers. We focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t do.
In CfA’s recently published anthology on open data, Beyond Transparency, NYC’s Chief Analytics Officer Mike Flowers wrote that a successful open data initiative will “generate actionable insight for [government staff] that they can immediately use with minimal disruption to existing logistics chains.” What has been the ROI for departments and agencies that participate in opening up their data?
We’ve definitely found this to be true. We see time and again that if an initiative is perceived as onerous or too radical, it becomes the focus for negative emotions and actions — regardless of its actual merits. City employees already have enough distractions to cope with, so we try to make sure that we minimize their effort investment and maximize their return (whether emotional, community, or operational capability) when we work with them. The biggest ROI that departments are seeing right now is that we can reduce the number of phone calls for citizens to obtain information. As an example, people calling about Transit issues were usually waiting for a bus and wanting to know where it was right then. Making our bus datasets available saved about $180,000 last year in calls to our 311 call center alone.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is hearing how people want to use the data that we provide. You see their eyes get wide as they say, ”you know, we can take that data and we can build… !”
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