How to Translate Your Ideas into Data-Driven Action

Want to better your community but don’t know where to start? Enter It’s the Little Things: a weekly Strong Towns podcast that gives you the wisdom and encouragement you need to take the small yet powerful actions that can make your city or town stronger.

It’s the Little Things features Strong Towns Community Builder Jacob Moses in conversation with various guests who have taken action in their own places and in their own ways.

At Strong Towns, we often discuss how humble observation—walking your neighborhood and seeing where your neighbors struggle to achieve the day’s needs—is the first step to making our cities and towns stronger.

And it’s what our Strong Citizens do best, using their observations to identify low risk, high return improvements or empower themselves and others to take their observations seriously.

However, Strong Citizens, hoping to translate their observations into compelling proposals—repaint crosswalks, end parking minimums, etc.—often face a discouraging obstacle. They may have the anecdotes to tell a story; however, they lack the data to capture the attention of decision makers.

Enter open data: the idea that local government data should be freely available for everyone to use as they wish. Here’s an example: say you read our article on 3 major problems with parking minimums and learn that, nationally, parking lots sit empty while generating little tax revenue for local governments.

As a Strong Citizen, you visit your downtown to see if the problems you read about exist locally. Sure enough, like Strong Towns member Nate Hood observed in St. Paul, most of the parking lots are empty.

You’ve made the observation—success! But how do you demonstrate to your council members something that will get their attention, like that the parking lots you’ve observed are a drag on the city’s tax revenue? With open data, you could discover exactly how much tax revenue the parking lots and nearby buildings generate, then propose more productive, tax-boosting uses.

Sadly, open data is not the default policy for local governments. Much of the data we need to take action is locked away; or, when we do get it, is in a form that’s nearly useless.

That’s why, in this episode, I chat with Kyle Taylor, Jesse Hamer, and Habib—board members at TechMill Denton—who understand why open data is essential to building strong towns and have partnered with the City of Denton, Texas, to implement it.

In this episode, you’ll learn how you can use open data to act on your ideas, how you can encourage your elected officials to adopt open data policies, and—most important—how open data can make your city or town stronger.