Meet Chelsea Ursaner. For the past two years, Chelsea worked for Mayor Garcetti’s office as a Business Intelligence Engineer helping to streamline and update dataflows to make more informed decisions about the budget and open data. She recently transitioned to a new post working with CityFi.co to leverage her public sector experience as a data and smart cities consultant.
How’d you get into data?
I started tracking data about myself and wanted to figure out how to do it more efficiently. At the same time, I was working at a software company and became fascinated with databases. This led me to a masters in business analytics at USC Marshall, where I was in the second ever cohort of the program. Tracking my personal data led me to the quantified-self movement, and I currently lead the LA Chapter through MeetUp. I view the self as a largely unexplored territory like space or the deep ocean, and technology allows us to study ourselves with a lot less effort. I also think tracking personal data is a fun way to practice analyzing and getting value out of data, and I’m currently writing a book on the subject so others can learn from my experience.
What are your go-to analysis and visualization tools?
R and Tableau. I do data cleaning and manipulation using R and I produce visuals in Tableau. R allows me to focus purely on computations and code, while Tableau is highly visual and spatial. I love its drag and drop feature. For wireframing, meaning setting up how data visualizations should look before executing them, I use paper or a whiteboard.
What issue in Los Angeles County do you think has the most potential for a data-driven solution?
Civic engagement. Los Angeles has super low voter turnout (11.5% in the Mayoral election last March), and data visualization allows us to engage citizens on all kinds of issues. Hence why I created the Neighborhood Council infographic. In order to get these kinds of data stories in front of people, organizations and sites that curate content and focus on building a community, such as LA Counts, really help! Cities can also help, such as the Mayor Garcetti's data team, where I worked for the past two years. They maintain a blog as well.
For Chelsea’s featured data story, we chose her Neighborhood Council Infographic that she created as part of a competition through Tableau called Iron Viz. Her project was a call to action for Angelenos to get involved in Neighborhood Councils. This is what she had to say for why and how she put it together.
1. Choosing a topic.
I was about halfway through Jane Jacobs’ seminal book on urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and it was extremely thought-provoking. Her chapter on neighborhood self-government was especially poignant, and I was pleased to connect the dots that it’s exactly the intention behind LA’s neighborhood council system. So, I created an infographic to showcase what neighborhood councils are and why/how Angelenos should get involved
2. Collecting the data.
I downloaded the Neighborhood Council shapefile from the LA City GeoHub here. In addition to the geometry, the dataset contains the date the council was certified by the city and what planning area/service region it is a part of. The information on when and where the councils meet came from the EmpowerLA website. For the sake of practicing and because this information is likely to change over time, I used R to scrape the data directly from the site. More details would need to go in a separate post, but the code is pretty short so here it is in case it’s helpful:
3. Crafting the story and layout
This step always takes a lot of research, thinking, and whiteboarding. My tool of choice is the ButterflyBoard.
4. Building the visualization.
If you are disciplined on step 3, then this step is a piece of cake for the most part. Yes, there were times when I had 10 tabs open between google and the Tableau community forum and blog posts on tips to winning Iron Viz, but that is how you learn and grow.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start using LA Counts datasets to tell their own stories?
Share, share, share! Putting your work out there will help you get better and connect you with other like-minded people.