data map

Data Exploration and Storytelling

“In God we trust, all others bring data.” – William Edward Deming, father of Total Quality Management.

There is no denying that our world is becoming increasingly interconnected with data. Every product we purchase, every prescription we fill, every course we register for are captured in databases to be analyzed by someone, somewhere (hopefully for good.)

Like other industries, government is rich with data, and looking to do more. Cities like Santa Monica are seeking to better understanding our residents (increasingly referred to as customers.)

The City of Santa Monica has numerous data points that we are proud to make publicly available via our highly rated open data program, available at

This is where your assignment begins. You are being asked to take one of the two roles described below, and use the City’s publicly available data to create value for others. As you approach your task, remember that the data alone, while raw and factual, doesn’t tell a story that the average person can understand. Try to dive deep into the data and find correlations and/or causation to help strengthen your position(s).

Available Roles

The Master Storyteller

You believe people care more about stories than data. You think data is of some value, but only as it pertains to pushing your agenda. Look at the available datasets and tell a compelling story. Your goal is to convince people to care about and get excited about your story. The story can be positive, negative, or neutral. The tone doesn’t matter as much as how engaged and excited people are to hear your story.

Beware! Some might call you a great storyteller, others may call you a manipulator. Consider ahead of time what holes your detractors and rivals might shoot in your story. Be prepared with contingency plans in the event you are challenged.

The Master Researcher

You are a cold, data processing machine. Your only mission is to find patterns and trends in data. You are purely objective and you only care about presenting the facts. You also have an interest in the causation and/or correlation for your datasets. Create hypotheses for the trends and patterns you have identified in your data.

Just as the storyteller will have their detractors, you too will be scrutinized. You will be labeled uncharismatic and irrelevant because you don’t have a great story that connects with people – you must focus on the value and let the data sell itself. Make sure that your research is strong and relevant to the average person.


Your team should look to accomplish as many of the following tasks as possible. Each team will present their findings the end of the session.


  • Create Team Name
  • Select Leader
  • Define Team Roles
  • Create a Work Space


  • Identify Story and/or Hypothesis
  • Research Dataset(s)
  • Create Outline
  • Conduct Quality Assurance


  • Create Data Visualizations
  • Create Maps
  • Create Content (text)
  • Create Branding/Marketing Visuals
  • Create Presentation
  • Create Website
  • Conduct Quality Assurance

Suggested Datasets and Starter Questions

These datasets were chosen because they are regularly updated, contain a wealth of information, and are relatively straightforward to understand.

The questions are just samples to serve as a starting point. Feel free to expand beyond what is listed below.

Public Safety


Police Calls for Service

Fire Calls for Service


What is the busiest time of day for Santa Monica Public Safety?

What crime should weekend visitors be aware of?

What area(s) of the City see the most Public Safety activity?

The Environment


Water Usage



What neighborhoods use the most water in Santa Monica? The least?

Compare and contrast usage for different categories (Commercial, Residential, etc.)

How many different types of trees exist in Santa Monica?

What is the most valuable tree in Santa Monica? Most valuable type of tree?

Doing Business


Active Business Licenses

Permit Inspection Schedule


How many different types of businesses (legally) operate in Santa Monica

What area(s) in Santa Monica sees the most development activity?



Parking Lot Counts


Which lot(s) offer the best availability based on day of week and/or time of day?

Do certain areas of Santa Monica provide more parking options than others? If so, why?

Government Accountability


Closed GovOutreach Submissions

Web Analytics

Employee Compensation Report

Revenue and Expenditure Actuals


Compare and contrast public interaction with different City departments.

Which departments provide the most value?

Suggested Tools

All of the tools below are either free or offer free trials, and should work on Windows, OS X and Linux. Many require an email address signup (some work with a Google account).




  • QGIS: geodata analysis, geodata visualization
  • Tableau (Windows and OS X only): data cleaning, data analysis, data visualization
  • GitHub: project management, asset management, development, presentation
  • HyperDev: asset management, development, presentation