How We Do Data in the City of Kansas City

Photos courtesy of Kansas City, Missouri

Approximately 650 miles east of the Colorado State University campus is the City of Kansas City, and a Chief Data Officer (CDO) who is in charge of making almost all of the city data available to the public, making them Open by Default. The public owns and has the right to the city’s data, which means transparency is the name of their game.

Eric Roche
Eric Roche (B.A. '11)
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As the CDO, it is political science alumnus, Eric Roche’s (B.A. ‘11), job to uncover data that is valuable in decision making, and empower the city’s staff and leadership to make quick, data-informed decisions. Showing data as an asset means that employees are more efficient at their jobs and residents get better services delivered. Research shows that when the public knows where their tax dollars are going, their trust in the government increases. And in an era when perceptions of the national government are at all-time lows, and cynicism about civic life seems rampant, this kind of transparency may help reverse the tide.

“We love seeing our staff present analyses to the Mayor and City Council that are based on publicly available data,” Roche says. The data are publicly available because Roche and his team make it that way.

Roche oversees the city’s Open Data Portal, which is where anyone can go to access the city’s data. In the past, if someone asked for data, it could be weeks for the bureaucracy to figure out where to get the information from and then get it delivered.

“That led to many missed opportunities in government,” Roche says. “The new system is about getting people the data they need when they need it.”

Roche loves being part of the open data movement. Kansas City, with an approximate population of 490,000, is on a growing list of cities worldwide who see the advantage of making their data available to the public. He thinks it’s important that the city stakeholders have the opportunity to re-run calculations and fact-check their work.

“The level of transparency that data provides in city government not only builds trust between government and citizens, it also improves policies and outcomes,” says Roche.

Public Policy and Public Deliberation at CSU

Roche entered CSU thinking that law school would be his trajectory after graduation. However, he is thankful that early on in his time as a political science major, Dr. Susan Opp introduced him to the world of public policy.

During his junior and senior year, Roche remembers how his thinking on public policy shifted once he took a math-intensive microeconomics class. That combination of political science and data is what started him down the path to his current job.

“The data heavy, scientific approach of economics paired with the systems and values driven world of public policy is a robust combination,” Roche says.

Eric Roche smiling

After continuing to take classes at CSU, Roche’s career aspirations continued to change. He knew that he didn’t want to just write policy, he wanted to play a part in implementing policy, which is why he chose to pursue public administration. “Policy is only as effective as its implementation,” he says.

Roche laid the foundation for his future career outside the classroom at CSU as well. Roche’s time as an ASCSU senator for the College of Liberal Arts, writing policies, collaborating and compromising in order to meet student needs, helped lay the foundation for his career. One of the highlights from his time as a senator is helping with the Student Recreation Center and Lory Student Center renovations.

Further, CSU’s award-winning Center for Public Deliberation helped him gain critical skills in engaging the public.

“I developed the ability and confidence to facilitate discussions on inherently political subjects in a way that focuses on productive outcomes instead of political rancor,” says Roche. Learning how to communicate with citizens directly helped position Roche to serve the public in new ways, both digitally and in-person.

Important Projects for Kansas City

Since becoming the CDO of the City of Kansas City, Roche has had the opportunity to work on several projects that have really made a difference in the lives of the residents and in the city itself.

Through surveys and other forms of public input, Roche’s office used data to determine that the residents’ top priority for the city was improving infrastructure, especially roads and sidewalks. In 2017, the city asked voters to approve $800 million in bonds to fund the improvements and almost 70% of voters said yes.

“It’s a great feeling to know that this funding will impact Kansas City, Mo. residents for decades to come, and that it was a data-informed decision,” Roche says.

In 2015, Roche and his team were also able to use data to figure out that there were a lot of past due taxes that needed to be collected; they were able to recover $1.1 million of those taxes. In 2018, through process improvement and strategic investments backed by data, the city was able to collect $3.5 million. That money will directly go back to city programs such as the police and home repair programs.

Roche continues to serve the people of Kansas City, working on the forefront of the digital revolution in local government. “A single day’s work easily ranges from discussing the maintenance of our 6,400 miles of roads to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, to enhancing our employees work environment; it’s never boring and it never gets old,” he says.