How well governments can handle big data is critical to their success. But how exactly are they looking at the data in the first place? In Louisville, KY, city leaders hold bi-weekly meetings called “LouieStat, bringing different departments together to use data to meet goals.

In mid-August, Maria Koetter, director of sustainability for Louisville Metro Government, held a LouieStat meeting around environmental issues. The group focused on problems concerning Louisville’s urban heat island, looking at data prepared by Dr. Brian Stone from Georgia Tech. The heat island means that Louisville is a “hot city”–significantly warmer than surrounding areas–and it is caused by many factors, such as a large number of open concrete spaces, like parking lots.

Koetter talked to other members of the government about reducing the heat island–specifically, by looking at data. “How many cool roofs we could install, how many green roofs we can install,” she asked. “What are the residential opportunities to install green roofs? We looked at lots of data around numbers of roofs and the cost of implementing plans.”

Koetter says that Louisville has a city-wide energy reduction goal of 25% per capita by 2025. “To do that, we did research with our local utility company, LG&E, about amount of users per sector–commercial, industrial, and residential,” she said.

Data is an important way to frame the conversations, Koetter said. “We come and present this data, we live it within our department, and when we share it with the leadership, what we look for is feedback on our proposed approach,” she said. “They may not have known all our challenges around heat management or energy conservation. So we looked to them for problem solving about how we can make the city more sustainable.”

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Koetter sees the benefits of using data as “twofold.”

“In our department, it’s forced us to look hard at the data that can drive our decision-making,” she said. “It’s also been a neutral way to share information with leadership. We’re not just coming and saying ‘We need to reduce energy!’ We can provide the data that shows what’s feasible and how we can reach our targets.”

And, she said, the information they glean from the data often contains surprises.

“We knew we set an ambitious target of 25% energy reduction,” said Koetter, “but looking at the data on paper and seeing our use was surprising–it was a visual representation that we’re not going to get there with our current approach.”

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