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GCN : April 2015
[BrieFing] Not only is Yelp helping people find great restaurants, it’s also helping health inspectors target offenders and pushing restaurants to clean up their act. Today, cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Evanston, Ill., and Raleigh, N.C., have health sanitation scores posted on Yelp. One of the first initiatives began in 2012, with Yelp partnering with San Francisco and New York City to develop the Local Inspector Value-Entry Specifi- cation, an open data standard developed by Code for America that allows munici- palities to publish restaurant inspection information to Yelp. The partnership was announced in January 2013 by San Fran- cisco Mayor Ed Lee. Yet, due to technology issues, not every city has been able to post scores. In fact, based on research from cloud solutions provider Socrata, a majority of U.S . cities do not yet publish restaurant inspections, nor do they collect it in a digital-friendly format, Government Tech- nology magazine reported. Most of the information is also locked up in PDFs or Excel documents, said Ian Kalin, Socrata’s director of open data. To address the issue, Socrata recently announced a partnership with Yelp to use Socrata’s Open Data Portal for govern- ments to connect restaurant inspection data to Yelp. As part of the deal, Yelp will become a member of Socrata’s Open Data Network, enabling Socrata govern- ment customers to link data in Socrata’s Open Data Network to Yelp’s LIVE open data format. In addition, Socrata will be offering free tech support to help its government clients transition its data to a friendlier, more accessible format via open data portals and application programming interfaces. San Francisco, a Socrata cus- tomer, is already using Socrata technol- ogy to post reviews on Yelp. Yelp is not only on the receiving end of health data. Yelp, along with other review sites, could be used to help health de- partments better use their resources by narrowing the search for violators. Yelp averaged 139 million unique visitors in the third quarter of 2014, demonstrating that the site is a goldmine of information for those seeking restaurant reviews. Today inspections are random, “which means time is often wasted on spot checks at clean, rule-abiding restau- rants,” said authors Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Luther Lowe, director of public policy at Yelp, in a Harvard Busi- ness Review article. Researchers developed an algorithm that analyzed merged Yelp review and ratings data (looking for words such as “dirty” and “made me sick,” for ex- ample) with hygiene violation data. The HBS study found that the model could correctly classify more than 80 percent of restaurants into either the top half or bottom half of hygiene scores using only Yelp text and ratings. Yelp data “can predict the likelihood of finding problems at reviewed restaurants. Thus inspectors can be allocated more efficiently,” concluded Luca and Lowe. In addition to improving public health via awareness and improved inspec- tion efforts, there is yet a third way the data can be used – by the restaurants themselves. Lowe suggested in a February blog that the project could help end food poisoning by embarrassing restaurants into improving their sanitary conditions. Results from a 2013 survey found that restaurants informed that their score was posted on Yelp tended to clean up their act and have higher scores in their next inspections, he said. • Cities tap Yelp to improve health inspection process BY KATHLEEN HICKEY 10 GCN APRIL 2015 • GCN.COM One city – Chicago – is already using predic- tive analytics to determine which restaurants are most prone to health viola- tions and which to focus inspections on based on potential violators rather than random checks. Chicago CIO Brenna Berman and Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk com- pleted a pilot program in February to analyze more than 15,000 restaurants in Chicago and its surround- ing neighborhoods for potential violations, according to Government Technology. The team used data from Chicago’s WindyGrid data repository with help from data scientists from AllState Insurance and combined it with data sets from the city’s SmartData analytics platform. The city analyzed information such as the age of the restaurant, previous inspection scores, data from sanita- tion complaints and the occurrence of property- based crimes. Its ultimate goal is to replicate the process in other municipalities. Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology, led by Berman, is develop- ing WindyGrid as a free, downloadable open-source platform, reported Govern- ment Technology. The estimated total cost of the project is $3 million, $1 million of which comes from a grant from Bloomberg Philanthro- pies Mayor’s Challenge and other funding generated by the city. Chicago would like to release WindyGrid’s code via GitHub and other outlets in the fall so it can be used by other government agencies. Chicago hopes to replicate public health analytics DATA.CITYOFCHICAGO.ORG Map of Chicago food inspections charts public health compliance, business awareness. 0415gcn_006-013.indd 10 3/30/15 3:10 PM