How whizzes are improving Cincinnati with data

Posted at 10:00 AM, Feb 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 16:00:40-05

CINCINNATI -- “My trash was never picked up.”

This complaint is one of the most frequently heard by the Cincinnati Department of Public Services.

In fact, this “return to collect my trash,” complaint was made 369 times during a two-week period from late May through early June 2015.

Then the city’s technology whiz, Chad Kenney, and his Office of Performance & Data Analytics got involved.

By December, the number of bi-weekly missed trash complaints had dropped to 98.

City Manager Harry Black, who made technology and data analytics one of the keystones of his job, released his first customer service report to city council on Tuesday.

The 13-page report details how the city drastically cut wait times on basic jobs – such as replacing broken street lights and repairing benches – that often draw the most complaints from citizens.

“The city has made a substantial investment in performance management,” Black said. “Now we’re beginning to realize the impact.”

He saw firsthand how Baltimore was able to use technology to improve efficiency. So he hired a former colleague, Kenney, who led Baltimore’s CitiStat program, to create one in Cincinnati from scratch in November 2014.

Months later, he transformed a vacant Downtown office building into a data analytics center so unique that Black predicted it would attract visitors from other cities across the country.

The goal: Use technology to make city operations faster, cheaper and smarter.

Kenney began leading his first “CincyStat” sessions to collect data and track how well each of the city’s departments are working. 

Since then, Kenney has led more than 100 meetings over seven months to drill into problems from each city department. He wanted to fix to backlogs, long customer wait times and basic inefficiencies. 

“What I’m most proud of is the change in culture,” Kenney said.

Kenney’s team analyzed data and was often able to find simple solutions to customer service issues.

For example, by plotting missed trash pickups on a map, public services managers were able to see a pattern. Many missed pickups happened when drivers were out sick and others had to break up routes to cover the area.


The city has cut the number of missed trash pickup complaints


“The DPS IT team developed a mapping system for supervisors to more consistently divide up a route among multiple drivers when this occurs,” Kenney wrote in the report. “ As a result, the number of both trash and yard waste requests has decreased significantly.”

There were 218 missed yard waste complaints in late May 2015. Within three months, it had dropped to 67.

This is one of many technological improvements the city has made over the past year. Others include an upgraded Fix It Cincy app, where the public can report problems such as potholes; a re-designed city website; a new open data portal and a streamlined building permit center.


Chad Kenney, director of the city's Office of Data and Performance Analytics


The report released Tuesday highlights other achievements:

       * A 59 percent drop in the backlog of requests to fix curbs, benches, signs and streets.

       * A 75 percent drop in the backlog of requests to fix issues such as tall grass, dumping, light repairs and litter.

“We are a municipal corporation,” Black said. “We have an obligation to demonstrate that we operate in the most efficient and effective way.”


City manager Harry Black.


In the coming months Kenney will focus on revamping the city’s emergency communications center.

He will also use data to predict violations and “see issues before they become issues,” such as neighborhood blight, he said. 

“We’re never done,” Black said. “The tweaking will never stop.”