NICOLAS DIAZ MPP 2020, who leads a team of innovators and data-analytics experts for the city of Syracuse, New York, has a goal to improve data ecosystems to deliver more equitable outcomes for residents. While at the Kennedy School, Diaz took advantage of field lab and fellowship offerings to test out the theories he was learning in the classroom in the real world in city government. He spent a summer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a Bloomberg Harvard Summer Fellow, where he learned to drive change through collaboration and focusing on mayoral priorities. Now, as the chief innovation and data officer in Syracuse, Diaz is working on a project to make data more accessible, reliable, and equitable for all city residents.

Q: What is the goal for this project?

This is one of around 60 projects that my team is currently working on, all of which include working with the city to innovate and incorporate data in their operations and decision making. But this specific project deals with building out a larger investment in data ecosystems, which involves comprehensive changes in infrastructure, governance, and culture. We want to build the muscle of using the right data in our day-to-day decision making, not only with the mayor’s office but within each layer of city hall. When we do that, and when the data is open and accessible to all, we’ll have more results-driven policymaking that addresses the city’s needs in an equitable way.

Headshot of NICOLAS DIAZ MPP 2020

“We want to build the muscle of using the right data in our day-to-day decision making, not only with the mayor’s office but within each layer of city hall.”

Nicolas Diaz

Q: Why is creating better data ecosystems important? 

It’s not only about building dashboards but investing in the right data infrastructure and working with the community. When you do that, government activities are more transparent, and the residents can use maps, visualizations, and other tools to understand what’s happening in the city and how we are progressing toward our goals. Part of that is our data dashboard, called Open Data Syracuse. We currently have over 100 high-quality datasets, many of which are updated daily thanks to our investments in data infrastructure. People can review datasets focused on water, public safety, housing, recreation, and many other categories. For example, residents can see a map of all the properties in the city that have been issued code violations or a breakdown of those violations by ZIP code, both updated daily. And anyone can submit an idea for a new dataset they’d like to see.

Q: How do you plan on engaging the community with this focus on data?

In addition to the open data program, we are hosting our first Open Data Day where members of the community are invited to learn more about the data the city shares with the public, grow their data skills, network with professionals, and create their own project to submit in a data project contest. It’s free and open to everyone and we have over 100 people signed up so far. 

Q: What are your future goals for the project?

We’re looking forward to seeing the results from the Open Data Day. We reached out to different community groups, like Women in Coding and local colleges and universities. We also made connections with local activists and civil rights groups to collaborate and learn how data could be useful for their goals. We’ll continue engaging with the community and building on the work we’ve done to make our data even more accessible.


Banner image: After Mayor Ben Walsh (third from right) participated in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in 2019, Syracuse built its innovation practice with Diaz (center). Mayor Walsh, Nicolas Diaz, and colleagues on the Syracuse Analytics, Performance, and Innovation team joined fellows from Harvard College and Syracuse University on a tour of the bell tower on top of Syracuse City Hall. Photos courtesy of Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University

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