LiveStories makes civic data accessible with data visualization

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles January 12, 2018
Big data analytics has been a key enabler of business decision-making for years but local governments have generally lagged behind. LiveStories aims to change that. Here's how.

LiveStories data map

The world is drowning in data but finding, formatting, and visualizing it in a way that provides context and leads to genuine insights requires more expertise, time and computing power than most organizations possess.  This is particularly true of local governments which are frequently understaffed in IT resources and working with outdated software and incomplete databases. The inevitable result is decision-making by city managers based on incomplete information and voters who are pretty much in the dark as to how their local government works. LiveStories CEO Adnan Mahmud says:

Government decisionmakers are interested in being more data-driven.    All of our customers aspire to be more transparent and they want to engage their audience. They simply lack the internal resources and tools to do so. As a result, a lot of the information you find on civic websites is hard to find and understand or is in an unwieldy format.

LiveStories’ solution is a set of data tools that are designed for non-technical users.  It is essentially a one-stop shop for users that want to organize data, draw insights from the numbers, and then publish the information in an easy-to-digest format. Most of the company’s customers come from local and state agencies that work with “civic data” — facts and figures that describe how people live, learn, work, and play.

The company also makes the data discovery process easier for customers without a lot of IT resources by gathering from local, state and federal governments and large public data warehouses like The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census, and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, what is essentially a mass of unstructured data.  It then organizes that data into relevant datasets and provides a way for users to query it and to compare themselves to other cities in a variety of ways.  They can easily create visualizations to better understand the information.

Using the platform, users can explore thousands of indicators from various public data sources, each with interactive charts and maps. These indicators cover everything from obesity rates to poverty rates, population growth rates, drug overdoses, and more. This solution greatly streamlines the process of sourcing, exploring, and sharing data stories for both technical and non-technical users. It also provides one central location for internal and external teams to collaborate in building data-driven reports.

Without LiveStories, customers would traditionally go through a multi-step process to find and organize raw data, using tools like Google and Excel, searching for insights with tools like Tableau; putting everything together in something like PowerPoint; and finally sharing it on the web with WordPress or SharePoint. LiveStories handles the entire process.

The Power of Data Visualization

Chad Henry, Prehospital Care Coordinator, Contra Costa County Emergency Medical Services, a LiveStories customer, says he particularly welcomes the ease with which he can create visual “stories” to communicate and promote quality improvement.  Prior to using LiveStories, CCC EMS struggled to communicate data in an easy-to-understand fashion:

It has always been easy to disseminate data and data analysis. The biggest challenge was doing so in a meaningful fashion that allowed a wide audience to consume and understand it.  Data is only as useful as its understanding at the audience level.

In addition to making sure the stories provide value to hospital executives, Henry wanted stories that were clear and simple:

It was important the story could be consumed by a layperson in the public rather than someone in the hospitals. The text and the content and the visualizations makes it easy for the public as a whole to understand.

The LiveStories story

Mahmud, founder & CEO launched LiveStories in 2013 with a $75,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation after having worked at Microsoft for eight years. Investor interest has been keen.

Last July, the company announced a $10 million Series A round led by Ignition Partners, with participation from True Ventures and Founders Co-op. Total funding is now $13.9 million.  LiveStories is using the funds to deepen its investment in its core product offering through the introduction of new features, enabling customers to build even more engaging data stories that bring greater transparency to civic data. The funds will also be used to hire across the organization, with a focus on building out the company’s sales, marketing and product teams.

The company, which has seen revenue triple year-over-year, is attracting interest specifically from health-related organizations like the San Francisco Department of Health; Case Western Reserve University; and the California Healthcare Foundation. Other customers include Los Angeles County; The Gates Foundation; UCLA; and more.

My Take

LiveStories has a drag and drop interface that makes it a simple and economically efficient platform for both data experts and non-IT professionals to ingest, clean, normalize, analyze and publish civic data.  That alone gives it a competitive edge in the market.

Mahmud likes to say that LiveStories is doing for government what Bloomberg did for the financial industry empowering our customers with data that can be used to inspire positive change in communities nationwide.

There are many young companies pursuing data gathering and data visualization sales in the gov tech or civic tech market but few of them are as well-funded or have a five-year track record of steadily improving revenues.  From this perch, LiveStories looks to be in the right place at the right time.

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