Building Rochester’s data muscles

Name: Kate May

Title: Chief Performance Officer

City: Rochester, N.Y.

When COVID-19 shut down Rochester’s schools, it meant that thousands of students who depend on school meals needed to switch to grab-and-go meals. Kate May wanted to ensure that the pickup locations were within a 15-minute walk for as many of those students as possible.

So after working with schools to get data on where students live, she mapped it against the food locations to find the gaps. Her analysis enabled the schools, recreation centers, and foodbank to adjust locations and hours to make accessing meals as easy as possible; the program has now served more than 1.5 million meals.

It’s just one example of how May is working to infuse data and evidence into Rochester’s work to improve services. City leaders want to achieve What Works Cities certification — a credential that, if they attain it, would place Rochester among the top-tier cities in terms of using data to deliver better results for residents.

A big step in that regard is a data governance committee May established with representatives of nearly every city department. The group, which meets regularly to decide on policies related to collecting and disseminating city data, is integral to making progress on some thorny questions. For example, Rochester, like many cities, still has some of its data stored in decades-old mainframe computers. Migrating to a more modern setup is expensive and requires a lot of buy-in around lots of in-the-weeds decisions. “Find the right nerds and bring them together,” May says. “You get stuff done that way.”

Pro tip: “Ask questions, listen, and learn as much as you can from other people.”