“Imagine Austin” Uses Data to Bring City’s Vision To Life

January 19, 2018 - (4 min read)

This is a guest post by Natale LaBarbera, an open data advocate and account manager at Socrata. 

What is the City of Austin’s self-proclaimed greatest asset? Its people. In fact, thousands of community members teamed together to create Imagine Austin, a comprehensive plan for how the City hopes to grow and advance in 30-years. Now Austin is leveraging a new dashboard to share key data in its first five-year progress report and beyond.

Inside Imagine Austin

Imagine Austin is structured around eight priority programs, including Healthy Austin, Creative Economy, Compact & Connected (Transportation), CodeNEXT (Land Development Code), Water, Environment, Affordability, and Workforce. The City has approximately 40 performance indicators it uses to report on its progress in the eight priority areas. Indicators include metrics like the total investment in the arts by the City of Austin and percent of residents with health care coverage.

When the plan was adopted in 2012, it outlined the need for a progress report once every five years to keep departments and community members abreast of how the City of Austin is performing across its indicators. Originally, the City shared this data on a single spreadsheet, but that wasn’t as streamlined or accessible as it could be.

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Sam Tedford, planner and open data liaison in the City’s Long Range Planning Division, spearheaded the development of an interactive, engaging web dashboard to report on progress, using Socrata’s perspectives tool. As the leader of this exciting project, she continues to work with all departments to collect and share City data in meaningful ways. “I get to work with about 15 departments to create things like this,” she says. “This was a learning opportunity to see what datasets we have and which were going to make their way into the data portal.”

socrata blog_austin

Screenshot URL: https://data.austintexas.gov/stories/s/b2dw-5rzd

Open Data Opens Doors

Since launching the dashboard, Tedford notes that it has created a fast, clear way to share data on many levels. Internally, it has helped the City track progress on their 30-year vision. It has also made it easier to share data with the public and media outlets.

For example, Tedford notes that many engaged community members access data regarding development and population trends to help them make informed decisions and advocate for particular issues as the City’s land development code rewrite is underway. The streamlined platform has also boosted efficiency in responding to public data requests.

“You get people coming from different directions and places asking for information, but this has been helpful for all of them,” Tedford says.

Beyond enhancing efficiency, the dashboard has also been a key way to engage the community and encourage active participation in Imagine Austin. “This is important for transparency and accountability, but also to extend the hand for partnership in improving these indicators because a lot of them require collaboration with others,” she says.

“That’s another reason why it’s important for us to use an open data platform like this––to share that data, tell that story, and extend that hand.”


Screenshot Link (Population Forecast): https://data.austintexas.gov/stories/s/Imagine-Austin-Population-and-Jobs-Forecast/j5a7-yk8d

What’s Next

Looking ahead, Tedford plans to continue to enhance the data sharing platform so it is as accessible and up-to-date as possible. She is currently automating more data movement, so the data is updated regularly for greater accuracy. From there, she and her team will provide detailed analyses and visualizations as they relate to long-term planning every five years.

What’s more, the City aims to incorporate the long range vision of Imagine Austin more directly with its strategic plan, which is currently being developed. That alignment will result in more detailed targets and metrics across all indicators.

With so much success already, Tedford is optimistic about the long-term impacts open data sharing will have for the City of Austin. “It is exciting to continue to work on it and improve it … we’re figuring out how we can do even more in the next five years,” she says.

Find out more about the City of Austin’s Open Data Program and how they are engaging over 40 data liaisons within the city.

nataleAbout the Author: Natale LaBarbera is an open data advocate and account manager at Socrata. She works with a variety of cities, counties, and states making sure their data programs operate successfully.