Mayor G. T. Bynum believes that data can help cities make better decisions and unite people. “I ran for mayor on a platform of utilizing data evidence and evaluations not just to improve city services,” he explains, “but as a way of pulling together people who might normally not agree with one another.”
But he had another challenge: when he entered office, he was in the middle of a budget year and his staff did not have the expertise or capacity to fully utilize the data to inform decision-making. Fortunately, Tulsa has a growing tech industry and a number of citizens who were eager to contribute. The mayor’s Performance Strategy and Innovation team established Urban Data Pioneers and put out a call for citizens, including city employees, to join the team.
The teams of city hall staff and citizens have delved deeply into the data, largely in their own free time, to create tools and make recommendations that are being used to inform policy and shed light on entrenched problems.
And it’s already changing how the city does business. For years, the city had been using only pavement quality to evaluate and prioritize street improvements. An Urban Data Pioneers team created a new set of criteria that includes street safety and traffic to better prioritize improvements. The team also analyzed the causes of car crashes at intersections around the city. The new criteria and research will be used to guide many of the improvements included in a half-billion-dollar capital campaign the city is launching next year.
“These are folks that may not want to ever run for office, but they want to help build a better community,” explains Mayor Bynum. “They might be voting for different candidates for president, but they agree that we want to have fewer car accidents in Tulsa, they agree that we want to have safer neighborhoods, they agree that it makes sense to consider more factors in our streets than just the current condition of a street that was built four years ago.”