Meet Michael Schnuerle, Louisville’s first city data officer

venn-diagramHalfway through a conversation about his new role as the city’s first data officer, Michael Schnuerle describes the popular Venn diagram that maps out what a dream job feels like. The four overlapping circles are: what you love, what helps people, what you’re good at and what you can make money doing. At the center is your purpose. That’s what this job represents to him.

Truly, Schnuerle’s new job as the first data officer with the Office of Performance Improvement will in large part expand on the hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours that he has put in as a champion of open data and transparency over the years.

Just a few short months after Google Maps went live in 2005, Schnuerle created Louisville Crime Lab, a site on which viewers could map the past 30 days of crime using Google Map technology. When he expanded the mapping capability to include sex offenders, restaurant health ratings, traffic times and homes for sale, he changed the name to Metro Mapper.

In 2007, Schnuerle filed a complaint against LMPD with the Attorney General’s office after Metro Mapper put in a request for two years of crime data and was charged $1,000. In response, LMPD opened data for the past five years at no cost and provides free monthly updates.

When he made his mapping technology available to other cities, Schnuerle founded YourMapper in 2009.

Michael Schnuerle

Michael Schnuerle

He also formed the Louisville brigade of the Code for America. It’s a volunteer organization that uses coding technology to help cities and organizations solve problems. Louisville was one of only nine cities to host the first Code for America competition and Schnuerle was on the winning team. He created an app that gave  a score from one to 10 to show how dangerous a neighborhood was based on GPS and crime data.

He also co-hosted the first National Day of Civic Hacking in 2013, a daylong hackathon in which participants used open data to create products to benefit local citizens and organizations.

Later that same year, he co-founded the Civic Data Alliance, an organization which now has around 100 members and seven core members who run the show.

His new job, he said, is to help the mayor’s office “fulfill the promise to have everything open by default.”

According to Schnuerle, the application process for the job took two months and included lots of applicants — four he knew personally. His new boss, Teresa Reno-Weber, told IL in an email that they received around 20 applications for the job, mostly from people whose backgrounds were in IT.

“We also had several entrepreneurs, economists, civic hackers, data analysts, coders and project managers,” she said.

“We had an extremely competitive pool of applicants, but at the end of the day, Michael’s technical skill, strategic vision and long-term commitment to unleashing the city’s data for public good as evidenced by his work with the Civic Data Alliance and his business, Your Mapper, made him the right choice as Louisville’s first Data Officer,” Reno-Weber said.

The high demand for the position is, in part, because it’s an unusual position. Only around a dozen U.S. cities employ a data scientist. Louisville, he said, has been a vanguard in the data world. When Mayor Fischer announced that he intended to open up the city’s data, only six cities had open-data policies. When the mayor made the executive order for complete information transparency and open data in Oct. 2013, only eight other cities had such a policy. None of the frequently cited “peer cities” has a data officer.

Schnuerle went to Male High School and obtained his bachelor of science in computer science from the University of Kentucky. After the usual postgrad jobs like working in restaurants, waiting tables, he eventually started his career in what he calls “internet stuff.” He made websites, he did project management for web design companies. In 2007, he formed YourMapper as an LLC. At one time, Schnuerle was one of only two Google Maps Certified Maps Developers in the U.S.

In 2012, he went to work for Autodemo, doing a lot of the tech heavy lifting for the company, which creates demonstration videos and explainers.

He’s worked with Reno-Weber before. The two partnered with the American Printing House for the Blind to create an app that would allow blind and visually impaired people navigate the city streets by sounds. There were other devices out there that did this, but they were prohibitively expensive for too many people.

Reno-Weber announced in August that she would be leaving city government after almost five years to work as CEO of the nonprofit Metro United Way. Her successor will be Daro Mott, chief innovation officer for Cuyahoga County, (Cleveland, Ohio) who will start later this year.

Schnuerle said that his goals were to build relationships, to make sure data collection and sharing is standardized and to make that easier for everyone involved.

He said that some departments are more ahead of the curve when it comes to data than others. The fact that some critical services are external to Metro Government, like the PVA, the water company and JCPS, brings up questions of access.

The city already partners with Waze to provide traffic data to the app and Yelp to provide restaurant health scores. Schnuerle hopes to help build more public-private partnerships around the city’s data.

Schnuerle starts on Monday.

The primary benefit of open data is transparency. “People can see that no one’s hiding things,” he said. “Open data also helps businesses make decisions.”