New Orleans’ Data Leader, Oliver Wise, Leaves for Position with Socrata

As director of Performance and Accountability, Wise has created a long and influential legacy of innovative municipal data work.

by Zack Quaintance / November 17, 2017
Photo by David Kidd

Oliver Wise, director of New Orleans’ Office of Performance and Accountability, is leaving city government for a position with Socrata, one of the most prominent open data companies in gov tech.

Wise’s last day is Friday, Nov. 17, and he is scheduled to start at Socrata on Dec. 1 as digital government principal. Wise’s official title in New Orleans was director of performance and accountability, a role in which he essentially functioned as chief data officer. Wise is among the early pioneers in using data and analytics to improve local government services.

He started in New Orleans in 2010, a time when not a single American city had a chief data officer. This has changed, and although the position remains infrequent, it is now firmly entrenched in city halls ranging from Chicago to Boston to Louisville, Ky. All of that is a way of showing that when Wise got to New Orleans, there was barely even a rough template available for how local government should use data.

New Orleans at that time was also in a state of chaos, facing significant internal challenges such as massive budget deficits and low staff morale. Wise worked to help Mayor Mitch Landrieu change this.

“We started from scratch here,” Wise said during a phone conversation with Government Technology on his last day at the city. “We walked in and the IT systems were in total disarray, the budget was being overrun, there was no tracking record of any performance whatsoever, and the idea of using data to promote accountability and transparency was just anathema to the organization at that time. I’m very proud of all we’ve accomplished, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.”

One of Wise’s first tasks was helping deal with widespread blight — nearly 30 percent of New Orleans’ housing was thought to be abandoned or impaired. As the city sought to remove 10,000 blighted homes by 2014, Wise and his team created the “blight stat” program that tracked results. He has subsequently spread similar data-driven analytical approaches to other work.

Another notable creation was a predictive fire risk tool that has since gone national, and Wise also led the development of a performance management system called Results Nola that tracks progress toward the mayor’s biggest policy objectives.

He also created a toolkit to spur departmental engagement around data, which includes presentation tools, an analytics typology, a website and a form that internal departments can use to express interest in data projects. Dubbed NOLAlytics, this last effort is a fitting example of the legacy Wise leaves in New Orleans.

“It’s been an incredibly exciting time to: one, be working in cities, and two, be working in data,” Wise said. “The paradigm shift of urbanization and the rise of big data is just transforming everything. It’s been a very exciting time to be in a role where you can be at the intersection of those two currents.”

Wise, who was featured as one of Government Technology Magazine’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers, said that philanthropy has been vital to the rise of data work in city halls, specifically pointing to Bloomberg’s What Works Cities, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Living Cities for creating a national buzz for the fledging practice of using data to improve municipal government.  

Wise said working with Socrata appeals to him because it will allow him to build on his experience using data to drive policy agendas. He said he is also excited to contribute to the company’s strategic direction, using data for transparency and making sure government has the tools, services and capacities it needs to continue innovation.