Little Rock Uses Community Data to Light Underserved Areas

The Arkansas city’s Data Academy found dim or blocked streetlights to be a major concern among residents, so officials set up volunteer events aimed at walking the streets and reporting lighting issues for repair.

by / March 1, 2019

Little Rock, Ark., has a new program called Lights On, which deputizes residents and neighborhood groups to organize and walk the streets, reporting blocked or broken streetlights for repair.

The reports are taken through Little Rock’s existing 311 program, and then funneled for repair either to the relevant city department or to Entergy Arkansas, the private company that manages the majority of the city's streetlights.

The program is born of a simple idea: focus and streamline work orders in concentrated areas. Instead of relying on residents to proactively use 311 and other reporting avenues of their own accord, Lights On creates an event that serves as an extra push for large geographic groups to do so.

Melissa Bridges, Little Rock’s performance and innovation coordinator, said so far Lights On has been piloted among two of the city’s 163 named neighborhood associations, resulting in a major uptick in streetlight outages being reported, spurring a corresponding uptick in streetlight repairs. The end result is, of course, brighter neighborhoods and more comfortable city streets.

The idea for Lights On was created as a result of another program that uses data in Little Rock. That program, dubbed Data Academies, essentially convenes city staff members with local residents to look at all manner of data — from income level and education to the prevalence of grocery stores — in the service of brainstorming and conversations about how to improve certain areas.

It was a data academy, Bridges said, that made the city start to suspect that residents were under-reporting streetlight outages. While focused on Little Rock’s Midtown Neighborhood Association, residents continually said a major problem was dark streets. Yet, a thorough data analysis found that during the past year, only 22 total streetlight repair tickets were issued. So, officials organized a one-night volunteer reporting event, which ultimately spotted 37 blocked or dim streetlights.

“Their No. 1 priority was their streets were very, very dark,” Bridges said. “They had moms trying to walk kids home from school and there’s not a lot of sidewalks in that area. They just didn’t know you could use the 311 map or call that in.”

And that’s how Lights On was created, as a way to call on neighborhood associations and community-based groups to organize concentrated streetlight canvassing. So far, the program has been piloted in just two neighborhoods, with Bridges noting the hope is to soon increase reporting efficiency throughout the city. The numbers bear out the efficiency so far.

“We went from having a handful of reports over the course of the year to almost 40 of them in one night,” Bridges said.   

The next step is continuing to prove the concept by expanding it to more neighborhoods. If it then proves efficient for streetlight reporting, Lights On could be extended to other neighborhood issues, from potholes to blight, albeit with a presumably different name.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.