When Mayor Bynum was elected in 2016, he had ambitious plans to drive improvements throughout Tulsa by leveraging the city’s vast data volumes. However, the local government lacked the resources to pursue large-scale data science projects in-house.
The solution was the Urban Data Pioneers (UDP) initiative: a program that puts together teams of city employee and community volunteers to tackle specific challenges through data analytics. The city’s initial call for volunteers saw 120 people sign up for the program.
Tulsa created a new City Hall department to manage the initiative, which splits volunteers into smaller cohorts and assigns each a predetermined topic based on city priorities. Each cohort includes at least two data scientists and a subject matter expert, while the remaining team members come from a variety of backgrounds – including city employees, university students, local tech entrepreneurs, and more.
Cohorts spend 10 weeks on a project, and the end result is a slide deck that aims to visualise their findings. The slide decks are presented to city department directors and posted online, and the most pressing topics are passed on to the city council and the mayor.
Already, UDP teams have helped Tulsa find solutions for numerous challenges, including 911 response time, violent crime rate, school spending, evictions, and more.