How Seattle approaches data as a tool, not a solution

Name: Richard Todd

Title: Data Analytics Lead, Innovation and Performance Team

City: Seattle, Washington

Richard Todd believes in the power of data to make cities work better for residents. He also understands that it’s not just the numbers that matter but what you do with them. Todd put this mantra to work last year helping the Seattle Municipal Court examine its unpaid parking and traffic tickets. Of the 600,000 tickets the court was issuing annually, about 40 percent defaulted and a quarter were referred to debt-collection agencies. In other words, the city was missing out on a lot of revenue, and drivers were being sent down a path that can lead to a suspended driver’s license. Todd led an intervention that used insights from behavioral science to redesign reminder notices sent to ticketed drivers. He and his team also ran randomized control trials to test the impact of those changes. The results were decisive. Their interventions reduced the likelihood of default by 13 percent, and the likelihood of being referred to a debt collector by 9 percent. That’s the equivalent of 22,000 drivers avoiding the potential for a simple ticket turning into a much larger problem. This year, Todd and his team are turning to new projects related to police recruitment, combating homelessness, and helping residents save on their utility bills. “There’s so much scale for supporting people who are working in the city with the skills we have,” he said. “There’s no shortage of opportunities here, it’s really amazing.”

“We often imagine our work in government as a solitary pursuit, but it’s a team sport — don’t be afraid to ask for help!”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.

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