Case Study

How Sugar Land, Texas, Improved Access to Data and Performance Metrics with OpenGov Open Data

Located 20 miles outside of Houston, Sugar Land, TX has always been a hub of innovation and community spirit. Known for its rich history rooted in the sugar industry, the City is one of the fastest-growing communities in Texas thanks to its outstanding schools, libraries, civic organizations, and other resources.

To keep pace with the growth, Sugar Land has always worked to harness the power of technology to improve the lives of its residents and the efficiency of its workforce. Sugar Land recognized that at the core of this transformation was the need to improve access to data—not just any data, but timely, accurate, and relevant information that could empower both the City’s team and its residents. This accessible data then helps the City act quickly and effectively.

“To Sugar Land, transparency means ensuring that residents feel that we are accessible and open. We want them to understand the ‘why’ behind decisions we make, policies we enact, or programs we offer, even if they don’t agree with the why.”
– Kylie Jackson, Director of Data and Innovation

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Population
109,373 (2021)

Agency Type
City

Annual Budget
USD 250,000,000.00

Role
Administration

Region
West

Solution
Open Data

Customer Results

Launched in Only 4 Months

Simplified Data Sharing

Improved Performance Tracking

Increase in Internal Engagement

The Challenge

Over the past year, Lauren Lathon, Data & Performance Strategist, and the rest of the Data & Innovation team at Sugar Land have built a solid foundation for data-driven decision-making. But they felt they needed a partner to get to their dream future state.

“We wanted to continue expanding our data-related activities, get more people around the City involved, and continue to cultivate a culture where data helps achieve our most important priorities,” said Lathon.

Plus, the team was looking to develop meaningful partnerships with Sugar Land’s diverse and highly-educated population—partnerships that could help the team address City challenges in ways that they would not think of on their own.

“It is important to us that we do not just put a bunch of information out there and say, ‘Well, we are transparent now,’” said Lathon. “But that we provide meaningful context so that the community can understand even without a level of technical knowledge. We believe that being transparent with information can spur on more citizen engagement and involvement.”

In addition, Lathon and the team were dealing with departmental data silos and high volumes of open record requests, often making it hard for key decisions to be made.

“The things that we learned people were keeping on a single hard drive were shocking,” said Lathon. “At that point we knew we needed to begin the process of breaking down inter and intra-departmental silos. The process really opened our eyes to what data we have available and where there may be gaps from data accessibility or collection issues.”

Lastly, Sugar Land wants to earn its What Works City Certification. This program sets the standard of excellence in city governance by evaluating how well cities are managed and whether they have the right people, practices, and policies in place to put data and evidence at the center of decision-making.

With a goal to launch in just four months, the team had a tight deadline. They needed a partner that could create an aggressive, but realistic strategy to make their data dreams a reality.

The Solution

Sugar Land turned to OpenGov’s Open Data solution to bring data across the City into one accessible, transparent platform, allowing the City to stay on track with its aggressive timeline.

“Working with OpenGov has been such a positive experience,” said Lathon. “Our project team, from sales to support, has listened to our wants and needs and created a plan that made sense for us.”

Department buy-in was also huge. To make the open data portal a success, it required participation from nearly every department. The Data & Innovation team needed to emphasize the additional upfront work would lead to better quality data, partnership opportunities across teams, fewer FOIA requests, and the ability to tell the story they needed to tell.

“We knew we were asking departments for extra effort from their end,” said Lathon. “We had to show them where the long-term benefits would come from. It did require extra work for the short term, but will ultimately give them a return on their investment.”

The Results

Thanks to a dedicated team, a strong external communication strategy, and the ability to launch with over 70 datasets, Sugar Land was excited to launch Sugar Land Insights in four short months.

This one-stop data performance shop gives residents access to data sets from all departments on strategic outcomes, solving some of the City’s largest data-sharing challenges and immensely improving transparency.

“With Sugar Land Insights, we can share data in an easily accessible, user-friendly way,” said Lathon. “By doing so, we hope to see a decrease in open records requests, build an easier flow of information between internal parties, and discover areas of opportunity for growth and collaboration.”

In addition, there were some immediate impacts felt after the launch of Sugar Land Insights.

Performance Metrics Tracking

To determine how in line the City is with achieving its strategic goals, it has laid out four “All-in Initiatives,” which bring resources from all levels of the organization to work together. The four initiatives, which are redevelopment and reinvestment, What City Works certification, transformation and organizational culture, and planning for future G.O. Bonds, each has its own set of performance metrics to track.

Now, the team can revamp these metrics and add them to Sugar Land Insights. There, both residents and internal stakeholders will be able to track the progress whenever they’d like. This ability to track progress will ensure the City achieves its strategic initiatives.

Increase in Internal Engagement

After seeing the data sets in one place, the excitement was felt across teams. There was lots of brainstorming across different departments around how they could better tell stories with their data.

“Everyone has become more mindful of how we’re collecting and using data. It’s become a norm around the City,” said Lathon. “The data on the portal is now unified, and departments can share with others easily.”

A Path to What Works Cities Certification

As one of their largest focus areas as a City, the team now has the What Works Cities certification in sight. The groundwork has been laid and the plan is in place to earn this prestigious recognition.

“We aren’t striving to earn certification just for the title. A lot of the criteria required for certification give us a framework for directly improving our operations and processes,” said Lathon.

What’s Next

With a focus on continuous improvement, the next stop for the team is Sugar Land Insights 2.0. The team is prioritizing a plan to build automatic updates for existing datasets, add new datasets, and create stories and visualizations for datasets that deserve more context.

“We hope that as we expand the portal’s offerings and continue to market and engage the public, we’ll receive more feedback from a variety of sources including residents, potential partners, and the academic community,” said Lathon.

And, of course, Lathon and the rest of the Sugar Land team look forward to joining the What Works Cities community through a well-earned certification.

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