The Center for Data Innovation interviewed Kelly Jin, chief analytics officer of New York City and director of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. Jin discussed the most popular datasets on New York City’s open data portal, how the city has used open data to identify bad landlords, and the lessons she has learned working in data roles for multiple cities and the federal government.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Michael McLaughlin: What are New York City’s biggest obstacles to using data effectively? How is your team helping agencies overcome them?
Kelly Jin: Although we are the biggest city in the country, home to over 8.6 million New Yorkers and employing a workforce of more than 325,000, the challenges and opportunities we face are not significantly different from other large private and public sector organizations. The end-to-end lifecycle for responsible data analytics is longer than many realize. It’s important to clearly scope projects and measure variables; sign data sharing and use agreements to ensure data sharing is done responsibly; gain an understanding of the data’s operational context, such as how it is collected by front line staff and managers; document metadata—data about data sets—to provide context; and develop data products that spark insights, questions, and engagement.
Reducing this lifecycle timeframe to arrive at insights faster is of utmost importance to us. In the coming months, we are bringing on a data operations manager, an assistant director for data analytics, and more data scientists. We are also planning to publish a Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) analytics field manual so that we as an office can standardize and share more of “how we work” with agencies and the public and demonstrate directly to our clients how to reduce the analytics end-to-end lifecycle.
McLaughlin: How do you convince agencies to buy into a culture of open data and using data to solve problems?
Jin: I am fortunate to work for New York City, which has one of the world’s most mature open data programs and open data cultures, due in part to the strong data leaders we have. Adrienne Schmoeker, New York City’s deputy chief analytics officer, helped cultivate this program into a civic problem-solving platform during the past three years with the creation of an annual Open Data Week celebration, establishing an Open Data Advisory Council, and many more civic engagements.
Today, the open data program continues with open data program manager Zachary Feder at the helm. He is leading the charge working in partnership with a team at the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, who supports publication and automation of datasets. Open, public data is also the law in New York City, and over the years with the release of more open data sets, our New York City Open Data portal has become the city’s largest data-sharing platform among agencies. Open data has naturally become embedded in analytics and problem-solving culture across agencies.
McLaughlin: One of your responsibilities is to oversee New York City’s Open Data portal. What kind of data has been in the most demand?
In September, we published the 2019 NYC Open Data for All Report: The Next Decade of Open Data, which contains our first forward-looking strategic plan with key program commitments to improve how we better answer dataset demands. We are also thrilled when the public outside of the New York City government finds ways to analyze and use the datasets on the Open Data portal, which we say are #poweredbyNYCOpenData. For example, The New York Times found where to send photographers to document New York City summer block parties by searching for block party permits.
McLaughlin: The Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics has helped agencies identify bad landlords across the city. Can you discuss how data has helped identify tenant harassment?
Jin: At MODA we use our skills in data analytics to help drive decision making at agencies. Working in close partnership with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), we conducted data analytics that integrated multiple data sources and helped the agency focus their inspection and enforcement resources where they could be most effective. Today, we are still helping HPD and the New York City Law Department identify owners engaged in tenant harassment even when we don’t see complaints from those tenants and sometimes before widespread harassment and displacement has taken place.
McLaughlin: You’ve worked in data roles in multiple cities and in the federal government. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned for how any level of government can best use and help other stakeholders use data?
Jin: I think of data work in government like the farm-to-table movement. Unprocessed data are the raw, local food at the farm. Often stakeholders, whether executives or the public, are the customers who only see the final recommendation on the table, yet their understanding of the process from data to recommendation is limited. Governments can improve their use and help other stakeholders use data by continuing to invest in data analytics teams and analytics staff who are the farmers and chefs who not only do the work but talk about how they work. This helps boost stakeholders’ literacy of how data is used to reach recommendations, and I’ve seen this turn a few stakeholders into farmers and chefs along the way.