Using unconventional ways to spotlight data for residents
Title: Chief Data Officer
If you encounter Baltimore Chief Data Officer Justin Elszasz on Twitter under his @baltdata handle, he may not come across like your average city official on social media.
That’s the point.
Elszasz, whose leadership in his post helped Baltimore earn recognition in December as one of 10 new cities to be awarded What Works Cities certification from Bloomberg Philanthropies in recognition of their exceptional use of data, is more likely to use a meme from popular culture to make a point with his 650 followers than the all-too-usual government boilerplate.
Such as in this tweet series last month:
okay set aside the environmental havoc, the billionaire rockets, the consumerism, etc. and think for a moment about when you first signed up for that amazon prime account— Baltimore's Chief Data Officer (@baltdata) December 9, 2021
the first time you smashed that button and two days later got that complete dvd boxed set of sex and the city on your doorstep - that MAGIC, that wonderment— Baltimore's Chief Data Officer (@baltdata) December 9, 2021
now think of the RELIEF you got from that service during the pandemic - not having to grocery shop in person or at least make that weekly or bi-weekly trip to target for socks or toothpaste or whatever— Baltimore's Chief Data Officer (@baltdata) December 9, 2021
or if you're a parent, a box of diapers— Baltimore's Chief Data Officer (@baltdata) December 9, 2021
now imagine you're caring for your live-in parents on a third of your current income and instead of socks or DVDs it's housing assistance that shows up in your bank account— Baltimore's Chief Data Officer (@baltdata) December 9, 2021
what if all our government services were that simple?— Baltimore's Chief Data Officer (@baltdata) December 9, 2021
Elszasz, who was appointed to his post last March by Mayor Brandon Scott, says he was inspired to take some chances with his social media style by Scott’s brand of leadership. “Previous to this administration, we had a pretty staid approach to social media or communications in general. This administration has been a breath of fresh air. And I picked up on that . . . and kind of saw an opportunity to push things a little bit and try something a little bit different and really try to engage.”
Social media outreach is just one small part of the overall strategy Elszasz has used in helping Baltimore embrace a formal data governance policy for the city. The city’s Open Data portal offers hundreds of dashboards and data sets for residents to use to mine useful information and keep city officials accountable. Elszasz says he and his team drew lessons from other cities, such as San Francisco and Chicago, and try to offer enough transparency so that other City Halls may learn from them.
Baltimore residents have endured a fair amount of tumult in city government in recent years and Elszasz says a common theme he hears is that the city needs to consistently demonstrate that it is getting the basics right. The What Works Cities distinction, he says, “shows that, at least on the data front, we're working towards getting those fundamentals right.”
Pro Tip: “When it comes to social media, use your own voice, but keep it relevant and engage people where they are.”