Boston - City flowing with milk and...data!

For this post, we are analyzing data that can be downloaded from Boston 311. You can find all of this data here for free. I also include a bar chart (*gasp!*) in this post but it was the best way to display the data. Consider yourself warned. Happy charting! - Gordon

Introduction

Mayor Marty Walsh launched Boston311 in August 2015 in an effort to create a channel by which Bostonians could communicate with the city about things that need attention in the community but are not emergency events requiring a 911 call.

"I am thrilled to launch Boston 311 to better equip our residents with a direct line of communication to City Hall while at the same time improving our delivery of City services," - Mayor Walsh

The Boston311 app allows city residents to open service requests with the City of Boston on a variety of topics. Those topics include but are not limited to: missed trash pickup, broken street lights, potholes, graffiti, and broken traffic signals. The app is very simple, easy to use, and allows several different types of input text and photos. One of the neatest features of the application is the ability to "tag" a service request with a phone's current location. This way the City knows the exact location you are at, within 30 feet of course! Having used the app to submit requests in my neighborhood, I can attest to the service speed, ease of use, and prompt resolution of the issue. Thank you City of Boston and Mayor Walsh!

Analyzing the Data

Using a data-set available online, anonymized, published by the City of Boston, we can start to see some basic trends in the data. I was interested in the following basic questions:

  1. Which Boston neighborhoods or locations were citizen's submitting the most requests?
  2. The marketing strategy mentions apps, Twitter, online, and via phone. How are all of those channels being used? Are there certain trends across regions of the city that prefer certain methods of communication?
  3. What types of requests are being submitted? Do we have helpful requests coming in or just complaints?

Here is a chart showing which neighborhoods of Boston are submitting requests:

Notice that the Dorchester, Mattapan area is submitting the most requests. Areas like Dedham and West Roxbury (the least urban areas of Boston) are submitting the least amount of requests.

Here is a chart of requests submitted by the 4 channels available to citizens of Boston:

  • Boston311 App
  • Self-Service (online webpage)
  • Constituent Call (calling 311 on a landline in Boston)
  • Twitter (tweeting to @Bos311)

Same map, same chart, but requests submitted through Twitter:

The app, hotline, and online webpage are getting more engagement than @Bos311.

Here are the types of requests being submitted:

Commentary on Chart above:

  1. It would be interesting to learn more about the "General Comments for a Program or Policy" as that is the largest grouping of requests. However, the Boston 311 data above doesn't contain that detail.
  2. "Unsatisfactory Living Conditions" is an interesting find given the conversations around student housing in Boston. It would be neat to look at the aging of these requests...
  3. Heating issues are naturally a concern given the cold climate and record snowfall over the past winter.

Conclusions

There are several more metrics and explorations possible with the free Boston311 data. I've included several other visuals in the workbook online, feel free to explore further. In the workbook, I cover the timeliness of request fulfillment, the neighborhoods with the most unsatisfactory living conditions, and the seasonality of heating issues over time. Feel free to download, comment, republish your own findings. I'd love to hear them!

Getting back to our original questions:

  1. Which Boston neighborhoods or locations were citizen's submitting the most requests?
  2. The marketing strategy mentions apps, Twitter, online, and via phone. How are all of those channels being used? Are there certain trends across regions of the city that prefer certain methods of communication?
  3. What types of requests are being submitted? Do we have helpful requests coming in or just complaints?

We covered all of the questions above and also starting asking more questions. As a data analyst, I find the "What" questions relatively easy to answer using well curated data and neat tools like Tableau. However, the "Why?" questions almost always pose the toughest challenge to answer because the results are not as straightforward.

Why are requests in Dorchester closed late nearly 20% of the time?

Why are heating requests from 2011 still open?

Why do we see the same volume of "Unsatisfactory Living" requests being opened for Jamaica Plain in 2016 as they were for 2015 or 2011? Shouldn't we be doing something about that?

These are tough questions and Mayor Walsh is a brave citizen to allow Bostonians to have access to the data to be able to ask those questions. It is situations like this where data and analytics can make a huge difference in the success of an organization, a team, or a company. Without the ability to explore and see real-life results of the organization's effort, real improvement is hard to promote and realize.

In the end, the real question lies with all of us who live in the city, work in the city, and rub shoulders with our fellow citizens here in Boston. What will YOU do to help the situation? Perhaps you should log a 311 request. In fact, I'd encourage it. That's the least you can do. Can you do more?

Dive Deep! β€” Links and helpful information: