Using unconventional ways to spotlight data for residents January 12, 2022

Using unconventional ways to spotlight data for residents

January 12, 2022

Title: Chief Data Officer

City: Baltimore

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:

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.”

Check out the ten new cities to attain What Works Cities Certification as well as other cities that have become Certified since 2018.