Podcast: Wastewater Monitoring for COVID-19 & Opioids with Stephanie Deitrick, Tempe, AZ

Posted on June 29, 2021

Stephanie Deitrick - GovLove

Stephanie Deitrick

Stephanie Deitrick
Enterprise GIS & Analytics Manager
City of Tempe, Arizona
Bio | LinkedIn | Twitter

Data and public health. Stephanie Deitrick, Enterprise GIS & Analytics Manager for the City of Tempe, Arizona, joined the podcast to talk about monitoring wastewater to understand public health trends. She shared how the City partnered with Arizona State University to begin monitoring for opioid usage, which they then pivoted to use for the response to COVID-19 pandemic. She also discussed how the City set up their open data policy and approach with support from What Works Cities.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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2020 ELGL Traeger List

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Episode Transcript

Kirsten Wyatt  00:08

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds in local government.

Message  00:22

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Kirsten Wyatt  00:49

I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co founder and executive director, and today I’m joined by Stephanie Deitrick, the Enterprise GIS Manager for the city of Tempe, Arizona, and fun fact, a member of the exclusive Traeger list of top local government influencers. So Stephanie, welcome to Gov Love.

Stephanie Deitrick  01:09

Thank you for having me on today. I’m really excited one, just to be on this podcast, it’s an honor and two, to talk about sewage.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:17

I love it, you’re in the right place. As Stephanie mentioned, we are talking today about sewage, and also public health related data, and how Tempe became a national leader in using this data to understand opioid addiction, COVID cases, and more. But first, let’s get started with a lightning round. What is your most controversial non political opinion?

Stephanie Deitrick  01:41

I think pickles are one of the worst things ever invented by people who make food. And that as a society, we should all agree that they’re terrible and should go away.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:52

Wow. So can you even have pickles in something like? 

Stephanie Deitrick  01:56


Kirsten Wyatt  01:56

Wow, okay. 

Stephanie Deitrick  01:58

Even the smell grosses me out. 

Kirsten Wyatt  01:59

Wow. All right. All right. Okay, good to know, good to know. Who is your celebrity look alike? Or which actor would play you in a biopic about your life?

Stephanie Deitrick  02:08

I actually had to ask a couple of my friends this because I was like, I don’t know. So now typically, I don’t know her name, but a woman who played Stevie in Shitts Creek. 

Kirsten Wyatt  02:20


Stephanie Deitrick  02:22

She came to mind for both of them

Kirsten Wyatt  02:24

Okay, now our listeners can picture what you look like as well as as they listen. If you could only eat one thing for lunch for the rest of 2021, what would you choose?

Stephanie Deitrick  02:35

If if it was in the perfect world, and it wouldn’t make me feel kind of gross for just eating that for lunch every day, I would have to say cupcakes, cake or cookies with frosting on it, anything with frosting.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:48

Wow. All right. Sweet Tooth here. Nothing salty, no pickles, but definitely sweet. 

Stephanie Deitrick  02:55

Oh, yeah. I could just eat frosting out of the container, and I’d be happy. 

Kirsten Wyatt  02:59

And then last lightning round question, ghosts, aliens or Sasquatch? Which ones do you believe in?

Stephanie Deitrick  03:07

This is the science part of me where my first reaction is anything where there’s good evidence. But if I had to narrow it down based on what I’ve heard of evidence, and kind of just thinking, you know, rationally, I would have to say aliens one, because everything that’s coming out, you can’t have that many people saying similar things. Two, it’s really, is it really realistic to think that every other country has come up with such amazing technologies that it’s just surprising to us? And three, do we really think we’re the only intelligent life form out there? I mean, just rationally, that seems like it’s not very likely.

Kirsten Wyatt  03:45

All very good, logical, scientific reasons. I appreciate that. So let’s get started. Tell us about your career path.

Stephanie Deitrick  03:54

I ended up in the City of Tempe. unintentionally, I was at ASU working on my PhD focusing on GIS and public policy and how data are, you know, visualized, and then used by policymakers to make decisions. And the former CIO for the city who was my boss for a while, somehow got my name from somebody, I still am not sure who and asked if I could come evaluate their, you know, what they’re doing with GIS in the city at the time, and help kind of write up a strategic plan for what an enterprise GIS group might look like for the city. So I spent probably a year and a half working on that, talked to a lot of people. And I think made some people unhappy because you know, it’s hard to have an outsider, let alone an academic come in, and ask you a million questions about what you’re doing. But I wrote up a strategic plan for them that focused on using you know, at that point it was GIS data for operational work and decision making. I wrote what turned out to be my own job description, and I kind of envisioned what the department will look like. Once I finished, he asked if I was going to apply for the job. And one I was like, you mean not be an academic? That’s really a novel idea, I’ve never thought of that before. And two, I was also thinking, Okay, he’s had to put up with me for a year and a half, and my lack of a filter for anyone who may be my boss or in some sort of position of authority above me. So I’m like, if he’s been able to handle that, and he understands that I’m like this all the time, this could, I’m like this could actually work out. And it was, it was a hard decision. But the more I thought about what I was working on, in my research, it just was such a, it was a perfect fit of like, all the things I was interested in, and that kind of opportunity that I don’t think a lot of us get to actually work in an environment where we can apply that. And so once I kind of had that aha moment, it was an easy, it was an easy decision to throw my name into the hat, although it was really, you know, stress inducing, because at that time I hadn’t done something like this before, implementing implementing, you know a brand new group in the city.

Kirsten Wyatt  06:27

But you still work in partnership with Arizona State University, correct?

Stephanie Deitrick  06:32

I do. We have, there’s actually a, let me try that again, Tempe has a really good relationship with ASU. And so there are partnerships that are happening like with our sustainability department, working with the school of sustainability at ASU, we’re working with the biodesign Institute. I also oversee a graduate program, a master’s in GIS program for professionals. So it happens at night, it’s a one year accelerated degree. And so I teach some classes, I kind of oversee and mentor the students. And so the nice part is that we have like this constant engagement with people who are, have different opinions, different experience levels, are, you know, on the GIS side, they come in, you know, if we bring them in as interns, or we show projects to them, they come in with just a whole different perspective. And so it forces us to stay on top of things, even technology wise. With how fast GIS is changing and just, it’s amazing, from one year to the next, just how new functionality comes out, the way that we view things changes, and that engagement with ASU forces us to stay on top of that, and not get stuck in, you know, a single a single type of, you know, type of program or a single version of software, or a single methodology.

Kirsten Wyatt  08:02

I love that idea that, again, that partnership, it just kind of keeps things fresh and almost young. I guess. That’s, that’s amazing. I’ve never heard it really described that way. But it makes perfect sense.

Stephanie Deitrick  08:14

It really does. And I, that’s one of the reasons I appreciate that Tempe is ,they’re enthusiastic about working with ASU, but also selective. And so it’s not like anyone will, we will talk to anyone who comes to us, you know, to either ask us opinions or to look at, you know, a grant proposal they’re putting in to ask if we would be willing to say that we would, you know, partner with them or support the work that they were doing. But it’s it’s not just a Yeah, sure, we’ll do it. There’s always a conversation about, you know, it takes our time and effort, which is like the city putting money into the game. And just like everybody else, our time and effort is limited to what we can do. And so there’s always that conversation of how does this benefit both us and ASU? And is it something that would really be beneficial to our citizens, which is who we’re accountable to. And I don’t think we’ve ever had anything where I’ve been a part of it and said, You know, I don’t I don’t see this being really beneficial at all. But there there have been hard conversations about data and data ownership and what happens to data. And I think that that that’s been an interesting, that’s been interesting over the past couple years, because I am, I wrote our open data policy. And I very much believe that data are open by default, and someone would have to say why they’re not open. And I think for researchers that can make them a little uncomfortable because the whole point of doing research is getting data and then publishing that out. And so there’s a very delicate balance between me understanding you have to protect intellectual property for some level of time, but me also saying, you’re using resources paid for by citizens, we can’t just say no, you don’t get to see anything at all. So it’s, it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting kind of line to walk. But working the faculty who come to us from ASU that want to work with us, I think, once they get past that discomfort of, you know, intellectual property, this is my job to publish this out, are very open to it and see where we’re coming from. And try to think about that, you know, in our relationship as we go forward. And so it’s, it’s definitely nice to be able to work to work with ASU so closely and have them be on board with the types of things we’re doing.

Kirsten Wyatt  10:45

As you mentioned, your master’s program, your master’s students, it also was such a reminder that building a strong pipeline between a university and a local government is just a great way to build a bench of talent and of potential talent in the future. And so I love that you mentioned that I think that’s, you know, also so important.

Stephanie Deitrick  11:04

Yeah, we try to emphasize, and it’s funny, because everyone who teaches in the program, are professionals who work with GIS in their day jobs. And so we emphasize a lot, you know, the importance of data as part of whatever they’re doing, and that for the most part, when they’re being asked to create something it’s for someone to make some sort of decision, some sort of an assessment, you know, use that content to do something. And so because I’m, you know, because I’m there, I’m going for my experience, a lot of that talks about public policy and the importance of having talented people, you know, who can work with data, who can create visualizations that are easy for people to understand, who think about the ethics of what they’re doing and how they’re providing that and how those people get to impact everybody in the city. I think it helps people start to think about public service in a way that they might not normally do that. Because it’s it’s really a struggle for some of these more specialized positions, to find people that are just intrinsically drawn towards public public service and it may just have dawned on them that this type of work is actually going on in cities.

Kirsten Wyatt  12:26

let’s shift gears and talk about something that I would guess is tremendously impactful when you’re helping students connect GIS to public policy. Share with us, the Tempe, opioid wastewater collection dashboard. What is it and how is it used?

Stephanie Deitrick  12:44

So this was our first project or partnership that we had with the ASU biodesign Institute, and Dr. Rolf Halden. And it came after we had started looking at our opioid EMS calls for service data. When we started looking at that, Rosa Inchausti, who’s the Director of strategic management and diversity, and now an assistant city manager, and I had been at a conference, and we heard Cincinnati talking about their opioid EMS calls for service dashboard. And they were putting it out a little different than we ended up doing, but they were putting out some pretty detailed data. And one of the things that really struck us both in their presentation was that, even though there might be discomfort about kind of putting something that some people might think, is really negative out there, that might negatively, you know, maybe negatively impact how people kind of see your city, they saw that it was important for people to understand the broad impact of opioids, and that it’s not just one demographic, it’s not just, you know, one population group. And so we kind of sat back when we heard that, because, you know, and thought, our council had an opioid Working Group, these are things that they were already working on. Do we think that we could do something like this in Tempe, and we were both super excited, and we came back and Rosa immediately got, you know, meetings on the calendar to talk with someone from our fire department to talk with counsel to run the idea by them and say, Are you even open to this? Can we try it? And again, not that I’m like, whoo, Tempe, but whoo Tempe! It’s a great thing about working here because our city council person was, Joel was very supportive of it. And Andrea Glass, who’s with our fire department was very much like, yeah, you know what, let’s do it. Let’s look at the data and let’s see what we can do. And so we spent a lot of time looking at ways to offset the the location so that we could give something close to the location of where things were happening while protecting privacy. And so we spent some time looking at that, and really going around with fire trying to figure out what we should show. And we published that out. And we realized that in publishing something that is a sensitive topic that people may not totally understand or may think of, you know, again, only certain demographics are experienced in or being impacted by opioids. We did a massive education campaign with it. You know, they, they put it out with the press, council talked about it, our fire department was out there, we talked about it, and really hammered home that idea of why it’s important to understand what’s going on in the community. That was the thing, I think that attracted ASU to talk to us. And that was the kind of that element that attracted Ralph to reach out to Rosa to say, Hey, we’re doing this type of wastewater work, would this be something that you’re interested in, in trying? I know when I heard about it, when they first started talking, and as with many things, my reaction was like, Yes, let’s do this! This will be amazing! How, how granular can we get in the locations? And how often can we get the data? When can we start? And so that’s what started those conversations. The goal of the wastewater work was to be able to identify the presence of opioids in the wastewater, or certain, you know, for different areas of the city. Because you know, there could be a large cost, if we started trying to put in new collection points that didn’t already exist, we took a really practical approach. As the GIS person, my drumbeat is always you know, get more focused in an area, get a small enough area where, you know, we can really look at kind of what’s going on there while it’s big enough to protect people’s privacy. And so being thoughtful about the cost impacts and the cost implications, we actually worked with our water department who was very quickly on board with this to identify places where they were already doing water sampling, the ASU piece could just be worked into that something that already exists. The idea was that we would start testing three times a week, and so gathering water, you know, when from those existing locations, and what ASU would test for a couple of things. One, they would test for the presence of opioids just in the wastewater. So like, if someone dumped opioids down the toilet, that that would be present in the wastewater, and they could identify that that was something that hadn’t been metabolized before, it’s a pure opiate. The other thing that they test for is metabolized opiates, where you can actually tell that someone consumed it and then excreted it. And they can, they can distinguish between those signals in in the water, so that to me, was super exciting. And we picked key opiates to look at, like fentanyl and oxycodone. And we looked at both, what are people dumping in the water? And what are people excreting? And with this, because the data are so well studied, and they’ve been doing this type of testing for a while, and they understand enough about opioids and how opioids are processed in the body, we’re actually able to take those results and normalize them to you know, a certain amount per, you know, population value. And what that allowed us to do then was to say, okay, so on this given week, over these three days, we got, you know, certain values, we average those out, and it shows that they’re, you know, are X number of, of people that might be, you know, might be using opiates. The nice part about this is that, you know, getting those results, one, the goal for us was to look at trends over time. So, you know, it was really important for us to be able to get actionable data, even if we just weren’t using only the wastewater result. We wanted to have something that we could do something with. And in looking at how some other places had been using wastewater, we weren’t seeing anybody who was really saying, Here are our results, here’s this other data we’re looking at, what should we do? Even if we’re not I’m going to go out and implement some strategy, you know, even for our fire department, what should they do? Where should they be prepared to potentially start seeing more calls. And so, you know, when thinking about that, we wanted to look at what the trends were over time. Because if we start to see things creeping up, creeping up creeping up, and then let’s say the fire department implements new educational outreach or they start, you know, carrying more resources to help with if someone’s having an overdose. If you start to see those numbers going down, even if you can’t make a one to one correlation, it suggests that whatever we’re doing is helping, even if there’s other kind of outside factors that are also impacting it. We did that for at that time, five different areas of the city. And we started publishing that data. And this was one of those times where, you know, working with ASU researchers, this was the first time anyone I’m gonna say it this way, this was the first time anyone had to deal with me when it comes to dealing with, you know, open data, and my, we shall publish this, and we shall publish it close to when we get it. And I’m not, I’m not budging on that. And we’ll, you know, having that conversation with the researchers and them understanding that it’s a policy that’s been adopted by our council, like, this isn’t my opinion, this is a city wide policy. And kind of settling on, we’ll do an average of the three days each week, we will publish it as, you know, close of time that we can to where they process the data and got the results. And we will protect the individual daily counts that they have, so that they can use that for their research and publish that out. And so that was kind of that final piece for me to fit it is that not only could we use it internally, to be able to understand what’s going on and identify, do we want to adopt any strategies to, you know, focus on specific areas where we’re seeing maybe an increase in problems, but also we can share that with the community to provide some education to them about, here’s what opioid use looks like in the city. That was kind of that other element that I thought was really important with this is it’s the idea of opioid use. It could be use, or it could be abuse, it doesn’t necessarily have to be addiction. There are valid reasons for people to use opioids. It’s not something that we wanted to paint a negative picture on, or where we wanted to sit there and, you know, wag your finger at somebody and say, you know, this is bad, there’s addiction, this is a super negative thing that we’re going to put it out in a negative way. But more awareness is important. And even if you’re not going to have a citizen who’s going to use the data just as data, it because it was something that was using sewage, which was new to people, and, and unusual. And you know, most people don’t think of wastewater as something that’s incredibly data rich, it attracts people’s attention. And if you can get their attention, you can then engage them, and you educate them, and get them to become a partner with you. And I thought that for us, being able to come to that agreement with ASU that we were going to publish the data that we wanted to include it someplace where people could easily go and look at it, that we wanted to provide educational tools to people to not only understand opioids, but to understand the work that ASU was doing and understand the science behind all of it. I talk about why it’s important, that for me, I’m getting goosebumps about it. And for me, that was one of the most kind of exciting, you know, the exciting moments where stuff comes together and you’re thinking, we have this relationship with scientists, we have departments that are on board with trying out innovative things to solve really sticky problem. We have everybody be willing to come together to embrace the fact that it could be really uncomfortable to release the data, but we’re going to do it anyway. And using this education campaign to point people to it to say, Hey, this is here, take a look at what’s happening. And now we want to tell you some stuff. And all of that coming together was super exciting for me because it’s everything that I’ve been envisioning for the city. Since I started it was kind of that perfect. Here’s all the stuff and you know, the lights come on and the you know, angels are singing.

Kirsten Wyatt  24:46

That’s amazing.

Stephanie Deitrick  24:50

You know, and even things like just that chance again, people don’t expect to see sewage as something the city’s talking about a lot. And so you You may have those parents who, whose kids are in sports and get injured. And they’re given opiate. And they don’t know. And they don’t know, to be concerned, they don’t know that, you know, I think it’s five days, I think in as little as five days you can become addicted. And that’s terrifying, and parents might not know that. And so the idea of talking about, you know, as we joke, sometimes talking about poop water, people just pay attention enough for us to sneak in these things of, hey, here’s why this is important. To me was one of the reasons this was so exciting.

Kirsten Wyatt  25:40

And remind us how granular is it like? So, I mean, obviously, it’s not identifiable, you know, by household. Is it at the testing sites, the water testing sites? Is it shown? Or how do you how do you display that in a way that’s still impactful, but respects that privacy,

Stephanie Deitrick  25:58

We show it for the whole area. And, well we started with five areas, we’ve now broken it down into seven, again, focusing on existing areas where they’re already collecting samples, and we show a value for the whole area. So the actual testing locations are things that we don’t want to put out there. Water Infrastructure is considered critical infrastructure, and it is data and information that are not released to the public. And also, if you show something in this specific location, just with the way that people engage with maps, there’s a tendency to think that that value is for that place. And so if you show it as a value across the area, and it’s normalized for the area, it basically says, this, you know, the data that we collected at this one location, is pulling water, you know, wastewater from all of these, these places in here. And it’s, you know, schools, it’s residential, and it’s commercial. And so it combines all that together so that we can’t even backtrack to a specific neighborhood or a specific business or anything like that.

Kirsten Wyatt  27:14

And has that had any effect on economic development, real estate market, even just sense of neighborhood livability has that come up at all, in in sharing this data?

Stephanie Deitrick  27:28

I think that there were concerns about that, concerns might not be the right word, it was something that we were aware of when we started having this conversation, which is why we brought some of the council members that were looking into this already, on board on like on the opioid side. Just because, you know, you don’t want to be the one to say, No, we really should do this, and then have it have a really negative backlash in the city, because that’s going to make people gun shy from, nobody’s gonna want to do anything after that, because of that bad experience. And also, I just don’t want to have, I don’t want to be the one that that tries to put something out to be helpful and just have it get lost in the noise of negative emotion. Even though we were concerned about that, because I think we were so proactive and explaining it to people. You know, we had something that we called an opioid town hall that was open to the community, where we had ASU researchers, we had nonprofits that worked with people who are experiencing opioid addiction. And we had our fire department come and actually do a panel session and talk to people, I think, because we were so kind of planning on the education piece ahead of time that we were able to overcome that potential for, you know, people to see this in a really negative way.

Kirsten Wyatt  28:55

Good. That’s great. Share with us more about the opioid abuse probable EMS call dashboard.

Stephanie Deitrick  29:03

So that’s the one that I talked about before I talked about the wastewater. It was the thing that really started this, what that is, is our fire department have EMS, we have ambulances. And so they go out on calls throughout the city. When they’re engaging with patients, once opioids, it was clear that opioids were a problem, well before any of the work that we were doing. The EMS professionals would make an assessment on whether or not they thought that opioid use or abuse was probable with the patient that they were engaging with. There were a lot of things that would go into that, you know, one of the key ones is if they use Narcan on the patient, which helps counteract opioids, they use Narcan and it had a positive response that, you know, highly indicated that opioids were were being used. And that was part of the problem. They would have other things that they would also take into account, if Narcan wasn’t needed. So did they see, you know, multiple bottles with with opioids, you know, prescriptions on them? We don’t see any of that information that detailed, like, did they see that the person had a prescription that was an opioid, or did they see the person’s name, but that’s the information that the paramedics would use in order to make that determination of Yes, they thought that it was probable or no, they did not. Once we found that out, when we first started talking to fire, we worked with them to be able to start pulling that data to be able to map it. And so, you know, again, protecting the patient’s privacy, we don’t, you know, we didn’t know their names. I didn’t know, you know, all the things that were going into making that determination, we started to pull some key information that we thought would be informative to understanding, who was being impacted the most, based on these calls, based on the information that our fire department was already collecting. And so we looked at, you know, age, gender, and then day, time of day, and day of, you know, day of the week. And so, we started pulling that, that data to actually be able to come up with a dashboard to start to look for patterns and trends that were happening. I think, for us, the trickiest part was that, you know, you don’t want to show one, we can’t show, we can’t keep it at the actual location. It could potentially be someone’s house and you don’t want that to be the case. And so the trickiest part for us was coming up with a method and algorithm to say, okay, when we bring this lat latitude, longitude in from the software, we need to apply some process, you know, automated process, that actually will offset those things, in a randomized way. So there’s, you know, some tolerances on there, but it has to be within x, you know, it has to be at least x distance away from the from the actual incident, but it has to be less than, you know, y distance away, so that it’s not going to end up, you know, two miles away from where it happened, right? I’m saying x, because we actually have this evaluated by a security consultant, who told us grandiosely, that these were not details that we should share with people, because even when we’re doing random offsets, you know, we’re randomizing how far away it is, there’s, and it would be really hard for someone to back into a randomized number, it’s still something that you don’t want to put out there because it opens at risk of someone trying to back into where something has happened. And so once we got the data together, and we came up with that methodology, we created the dashboard that would allow people to go in and see when things were happening, where things were happening, and who is being impacted by those things.

Kirsten Wyatt  33:25

And so any surprising or especially interesting findings that came, that have come out of either dashboard that have, I guess, maybe even change kind of the approach or the the the public policy response to opioid opioid use and addiction.

Stephanie Deitrick  33:43

I think that it helped on the education front. Our Fire Department has a lot of educational outreach activities that they do, and starting to look to see, you know, when are we seeing big spikes in this happening, and it was in younger people, but not like people necessarily in high school. So college age people, we were seeing bigger numbers in men than women. And at first, we were starting to see that it wasn’t just on the weekends

Kirsten Wyatt  34:17


Stephanie Deitrick  34:19

This wasn’t a hey, we’re out partying problem. This, this, these were things, these types of calls were happening during the week. And so it did start to get us thinking, you know, what would cause someone to overdose? What are the things that might be happening around them that would have them be fine and then you know, and they’ve been using and then suddenly, an overdose happens and and is that going to be different based on the age of the patient or where they’re located or you know, what day of the week, and so I think it started some conversations that we weren’t having beforehand to try to really understand that and I, for the opioid work that was the big takeaway that we had was how do we, how do we use this data to target our education and target outreach groups. The other exciting thing about the opioid work is that part of the, you know, agreement between us and ASU was that, you know, they’re testing for all kinds of, of opiates, and so fentanyl, different types of fentanyl are coming out. I don’t want to say regularly, but frequently, you know, there’ll be new types of fentanyl fentanyl, that’ll that’ll show up out there. And some of them are more dangerous than others to the point where someone touches something, you know, and it gets absorbed into their skin, it can cause them to overdose just by touching it. And so the exciting piece with ASU is that, you know, for them, their view was, is if they start to see something like that, in the wastewater result, there would that would trigger them to reach out to our fire department immediately, once they once they see that, to let them know that that was something new that they were seeing in the community. And that, you know, the purpose for that wasn’t necessarily education to the community on that, you know, getting it right away, it was protection for our firefighters and paramedics. So they were aware that they might be coming into contact with something that was much more powerful, much more dangerous. And that maybe if they if they did engage with someone who’s having an overdose, you know that there might be an impact on how much Narcan would be needed, in order to help that person. And so I think that kind of, even if it’s not nearly real time, it’s still real time enough to become aware of that before, let’s say, a police department might know or before someone ends up, you know, they start to see a lot of patients in the hospital with this new type of fentanyl. And so that I think is really exciting.

Kirsten Wyatt  37:04

That, and talk about feeling as though your work or just knowing that your work is making such an incredible and almost immediate impact on so many people, whether it’s your community members or your fellow city staff, people. I mean, that’s, that’s amazing. And that has to feel, you know, pretty incredible. And I can see why that would give you goosebumps.

Stephanie Deitrick  37:28

It is and it’s, I think that one of the things that this is brought about that doesn’t necessarily have to do with opioids, is the constant goal of building that trust with the community on one, you know, what data we have, how we’re using it, the fact that we are, you know, conscious and thoughtful about protecting their privacy, but also that, you know, when you know, well, sometimes we’ll talk about that, you know, Tempe kind of leads from the heart. You know, we focus on heart and science, and that when we say that we really mean it. And so even with the opioid work, you know, one of the things in addition to privacy that we really hammered home was, this is for helping people. This is for public health in our community, and knowing where people might be at risk or knowing, you know, what areas of the community might be seen, are being impacted more by opioids based on the types of calls that we’re seeing. And, you know, one of the things that we really emphasize with that, and then idea of we’re focused on helping you, not trying to identify people to arrest or to go after for legal things was that we really talked about the separation here between the concept of public health and law enforcement. And so it was a very conscious thought of, you know, if they saw a different type of fentanyl hitting hitting the streets. Clearly, we would let all public safety know that this was a potential issue. But when it came down to how the data were being used, the police department wasn’t at the table. This wasn’t a law enforcement thing. This wasn’t a we want to go out and arrest people thing, this was a public health, people are hurting people are in need, and we need to do something to support them or to try to, you know, start to reduce the impact of opioids in the city, and how can we do that from a, you know, from the viewpoint of helping them and not law enforcement. And, you know, our police department was 100% on board with that. They they saw the benefit of this for thinking about the health of the community, and they definitely were supportive of that idea that this was something separate from what they would do.

Kirsten Wyatt  39:54

It’s fascinating, fascinating. I would love to hear how you’ve pivoted the dashboards to address COVID. And and how are you using them? Or have you used them to understand COVID in your community?

Stephanie Deitrick  40:11

I think, so the opioids gave me goosebumps, COVID took me over the edge with excitement, and again, just feeling like all these big ideas I had when I started with the city that, you know, coming in as someone who is meant to kind of shake things up, and to kind of help change the culture. Some people, you know, are really excited for that. And you know, some people aren’t really excited for that. So it may not always be this rah rah experience. And so it took a few years to really feel like people embraced the message that we had. COVID was the thing that really, it brought that home, and it was everything was so different, and so scary. And you just, we saw people sick, we saw people dying, stuff started to close. And, you know, I’m in IT, and IT sprang into action to help the city just keep working. And I was kind of sitting there going, you know, we’re helping normal operational stuff, but I’m like, there’s nothing that we like, there’s no date, we can’t get any data. I’m like, there’s no data that we have to try to help people figure out what we should be doing. And so when ASU came to us, pretty soon after, the pandemic was kind of like, everyone’s like, Okay, this is a real problem, and said, Hey, we want to, we want to try to start, you know, emulating what we’re doing with opioids, and focus on COVID. And see what we can do. And it’s a new type of testing. there’s not as much understanding about, you know, if you see a high amount of COVID, in your results, what does that mean, you know, how does that translate to potentially the number of people that are infected? And so unlike opioids, there’s a lot of uncertainty with this data. And it was, I keep saying, It’s exciting, but it was exciting that again, you know, when we’ve brought that to the city, we had these conversations, and we, you know, even on the dashboard that we put out, we have so many disclaimers about the fact that this is to look at trends, the data we’re getting are valid, but you can’t directly translate 30 million genome copies per liter to 50 people. You can’t do tht. And so really trying to embrace that idea. And again, this goes back to my research, just on the academic side, that idea of how does public policy deal with uncertain data, when you’re talking about really complex, sticky problems with so many facets that, you know, public health and public safety are inherently tied to it, things are changing rapidly, there’s a lot of pressure. And now you’re bringing in this data point, that’s really important, but really uncertain, and it’s new to people, and the science is new. And so it was, again, I feel bad for saying this. But it was like during the middle of all this, just tragedy and being terrified of what was coming and not knowing kind of what would happen next to be seeing this, this whole vision with the city of, I’ve been talking about this for years, like the idea of how do how do, you know, government officials deal with this. And suddenly I’m working someplace where we are all in. It’s, you know, we’re familiar with the technology, we’re familiar with the people, we understand there’s uncertainty, and we’re willing to, you know, not work around it. But we’re willing to kind of incorporate that in how we use the data. And we want to share that with the community. And we need to know, whatever we can in order to kind of figure out where to focus resources, where to you know, where to say, hey, these numbers are creeping up. This is a problem. This is when we don’t want to, you know, relax a mask mandate, let’s say. And so as we as soon as we had everybody on board with the idea of this is going to be meaningful, even if we can’t get to a X number of people in an area value. We very quickly pivoted to that. And since we already had, you know, the standard operating procedures in place with ASU, we already had the locations where they could be doing testing in place with our water department. We very quickly picked up the wastewater testing for COVID. And my approach to it was the same as it was with opioids, which is the the data needs to go out. We need to contextualize it to people. We need to make sure that people do understand the limitations of the data and what you can you know, glean from it. But not do that in a way that makes people say, well, then why are you even doing this? It’s not telling you anything. And to just have people start to look at, here are these trends we’re seeing in the wastewater, compare those to everything else that you’re hearing about, you know, in the community, and then start to interpret that and say, what, you know, what might that, what might those pieces be looking like? If the wastewater spikes one week, are we potentially going to be seeing the number of positive cases going up that following week? If our numbers spike up on the wastewater results, and maybe the positive testing numbers or the you know, number of cases doesn’t change, what might that mean? You know, if we’re normally seeing trends of higher wastewater higher cases and suddenly don’t, why might you know, why might that be the case is, you know, you take, you’re taking a sample of wastewater you’re trying to do with around the same time, but you’re sticking a tube in water and pulling it out, it’s not catching everything. So could this be by chance that we didn’t catch it? Could it be that testing in that area has gone down? And so maybe you’re not catching as many people and things like that. So it’s because we already had that opioid work done, I think we were able to hit the ground running on our end, we did the same type of kind of educational work that we did, to start. So back to, you know, we explain wastewater sampling and how wastewater can be used to look at public health issues, you know, with, with different things going on and in the body, talked about what that process looks like, we talked about what COVID was, and why we were doing that testing and providing resources to people. And so we put together not only the dashboard, but a site that brought all that together, people where they could come and have that educational experience, as well as seeing what was going on with the data. For this, I would say and again, I know I keep saying I’m excited, but-

Kirsten Wyatt  47:31

Right, right, well, and Gov Love listeners know what you mean, we we work in the space. And so we know you’re not excited about COVID, we know you’re excited about the impact.

Stephanie Deitrick  47:43

Well, I say that I’ve been saying that about pretty much all of this and it’s exciting to just see that, you know, we talk about data being important. We all, every every person that that listens to this podcast, would agree that the data are important, and that they are meaningful to decisions and they should be they can be impactful to the community. But for us, it was, you know, I’ve been asking for us to make smaller areas for ever since we started with opioids, I wanted to reduce the collection areas down a little bit. So we could be a bit more focused. And with COVID, we actually did that. And so I think that one of the best things that we have done as a result of any of our data work happened when we reduce those areas down. There is an area called area six. And it’s very small. Again, it’s not so small, that it’s a neighborhood, so we’re still protecting people’s privacy. But it’s smaller than let’s say area one, which is a massive, massive, you know, geographically it’s a big footprint. And we were seeing that even though that was a small area, its test results were really high. And when you looked at it comparative to everyplace else. They were significantly higher than everyplace else. And so Rosa Inchausti, the director of strategic management and diversity, looked at it and said, You know, I think that that area, that residential area, may be low income, and may have a high minority population, just based on her engagement with the community and her knowledge of different neighborhoods. And so we went and started looking at census data and saying, Okay, if this area really is experiencing high levels of COVID, who are the people that are being impacted? And what we saw were that we did have high minority population population where the median income was much lower than the median income of Tempe overall. I believe that we had low insurance rates and we had a high student population in one area of the city. So, one part of area six is a giant chunk of student housing. So we were looking at this, and, you know, here’s the small area being impacted of potentially a vulnerable population. And the result was that we very quickly got agreement from, you know, on the on the finance and budget side, and from city council to put an outreach campaign in place that would go out into the community and provide educational material, you know, door to door people going and talking to people, and just putting together information to let people know, hey, you know, we’re seeing high numbers of COVID here, here’s some things that you can do to protect your family. And we gave out, you know, we basically put together these little bags that kind of got placed on everybody’s door that had masks in it, it had educational material, just about COVID. And, and how to find resources. You know, in order to engage any kids or people like me, that were in the household, we had fun stickers, you know, kind of related to COVID education. And we actually put together a campaign that targeted those populations, and went out and implemented that in the community. The other things that we did were that we worked with ASU, and our and our fire department to actually do some testing events in the neighborhoods. So in that specific community to make getting access to testing easier for people, they were aware of whether or not that they were infected, you know, because asymptomatic is, is really challenging, and how do you account for that, if you’ve actually not been tested for it? They did a lot of community events, and just follow up. And it was one of those things of wasn’t just a, hey, send out, you know, an email to people or stick a flyer in our mailbox. But it was a really thoughtful thing of, you know, we know what this population looks like, based on the census data, what are the things that that population would need to see, to help them understand what we’re what we’re telling them, because, you know, not everybody’s the same, you can’t just everyone, one, you know, one group and say everyone’s gonna want to hear the same information or respond the same way. And for me, that was the most exciting moment of all this wastewater work, is seeing the potential for an issue, the city, acknowledging that there was something that we could do, and then getting buy in, because we’re going to have to spend money, you know, it’s a budget thing and getting a very quick, yes, do this, and then coming up with something that could actually, you know, help people and provide them the information or the resources that they might need to better protect themselves or their family. And I think that’s been the most impactful thing that we’ve done.

Kirsten Wyatt  53:13

And from a financial sustainability or a financial, you know, conservation standpoint, it makes so much sense to target resources and target materials, to the location that needs the most versus blanketing the entire city, and not be quite sure if the message is getting through. So, I mean, I can see how you could look at this from several different viewpoints and see the value or the benefit in using data in this way.

Stephanie Deitrick  53:41

Yeah. And it also highlights that, again, the value of our partnership with ASU, because since there were ASU dorms that were part of this area, you know, we have that outreach to a few to say, Hey, we’re, we’re doing this campaign. Can you get this out to your students that are living in these areas? Are you, are you able to reach out to student housing to do that? And so ASU also participated in making sure that those materials got in the hands of students.

Message  54:13

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Kirsten Wyatt  54:56

Through this conversation, what what really stands out is that you’ve clearly built out your data practices, your data policy, I know that you were awarded the What Works Cities, Gold certification, so congratulations on that. But share with us how this work that you did to really lay out your data practices, how that’s benefited you, as you’ve embarked on some of these newer programs.

Stephanie Deitrick  55:24

I would say for me personally, in what I considered my mission at the city from when I was hired, What Works Cities was the game changer for me. You know, again, I was one person, I have one other employee with me. So there was two of us, trying to change the whole data culture in the city, and trying to tell people, you know, look, if you work with us, we can help you do all these things. And you know, you can get these great tools, and you can look at the data that you’re gathering and, you know, make better decisions or understand what’s going on. And, you know, you have to win people over one person at a time. And while I find myself very compelling, in the grand scheme of things, you know, people who don’t know me, and you have this random other employee coming and going, let’s do some stuff. It’s, there may or there may or may not be a good response. And so, again, Dave Hack, who was who was my boss, who hired me, saw that What Works Cities, like call to cities to apply, and we saw it too late. The first time we noticed it. We had talked about it as like, Oh, this would be, I’m like I could, for me, I’m like, you know, seeing the vision of all this data, stuff in my eyes going like this would be amazing. And so when it came out again, the next year, we moved in, again, Rosa Inchausti on this, who was working on implementing our strategic management program, and getting, you know, departments looking at performance measures and defining those things. And during that same time, you know, talking to starting to talk to us about how are we going to track these? How are we going to visualize them? Where is it, you know, what is it this is going to happen, happen with these performance measures? And so we brought it to her and kind of explained what it was and expressed interest, and also said, you know, this, while I believe, a ton of it, is IT driven because you need the technology and the data in order to accomplish these things. Just politically, it really isn’t necessarily solely an IT thing. It really is a strategic approach to using data. And so you know, when we brought it to her, I was super excited that she was on board right away. And so we put in our application, and I probably spent way more time than necessary going through it, because you know, when you want something, you want to be perfect, and overthink every response. And I’m, I’m a very rational person. So I’m also have that urge to be completely honest and transparent, and not say we’re doing things that we aren’t. So that’s always a negotiation with me, with people where I’m going to pass the you don’t have to, you don’t have to totally like detail every element so that you know, people are going to understand what you’re saying and not think that you’re you’re trying to say you’re doing things you weren’t. And we, when we did our application, we were pretty ambitious. And I think we identified four things that we wanted to implement all at the same time to get started with them. And when we were selected, I was okay, so I was excited. I was really excited. I was also in this like, excited vision for what this was going to allow us to do and how people were instantaneously going to be on board with everything. And that I was just going to write a policy and implement this program, and it’ll be great. And not realizing the level of work it takes to implement a policy and implement a program over six months while trying to maintain the rest of what you’re doing, and support someone else who’s implementing their own program. And so the reality of implementing this kind of overlaid my euphoria and bright shiny view of things for a while, but with having What Works Cities come in and help us did a few things. One, even though the city you know, our mayor, our city manager, our council, we’re on board with this shift to, we need to really think about what we’re doing. We need to identify those things that we think are important in the city. And we need to talk about how we’re going to measure them, and then actually do that, we need to have data for what we’re doing. And you know, they were already on board with that. And, you know, we already had our strategic management program going, and then there was me. The other element that this brought us was that it almost brought, legitimacy isn’t the right word, but being able to say that the things that we were doing, were viewed as, you know, good practice, by other cities, and by this organization that was respected by someone, you know, having Bloomberg basically come out and bring all these experts together and say, these are the things that we’re seeing, you know, cities who are data driven, and who are really doing this work well, here are the things we’re seeing them do. And if you want to, if you want to implement data driven governance, here are the things that you can do to help adopt, you know, help you really bring that idea into your culture. Here are the things that you can adopt to do that. And for us having that external component for us to point to, when we would be explaining why we were doing something, I think was really valuable, not just look, there’s this outside agency that says that we should do this, but being able to say, here’s this outside agency that are working with these other cities that you know, are doing amazing work, and that we all view in a positive way like San Francisco, seeing the work that they’re doing. It’s exciting, because they’re doing stuff where I’m like, I really want to be doing the same thing San Francisco is. That helped us kind of start to move stuff forward. And to be honest, it still does a lot to help us move stuff forward The other thing that What Works Cities did was, it provided me the support, to have someone to talk to about being willing to like lay out there and what I ultimately want and not try to like water something down to where I thought it would be palatable to people. So we would easily be able to get people to accept it. But more to say, here, I’m going to direct you to some best practices and some examples of what other people have done and things to think about. And we’re going to talk to you about it and what your thoughts are. And then we’re going to support you as you start to write this to remind you that you should ask for everything that you want that you think is the best approach. And worst case you adjust as you go. And it was, this was a labor of love. There was a lot of stress and anxiety that happened with it. I spent a lot of weekends bonding with the Open Data policy as I wrote it. It was a, it was it was an exciting and stressful time. But having What Works Cities there both for the expertise side, but for that moral support, I don’t think anyone appreciates enough, the moral support that goes into it. You get pushback from people or you know, you’re answering questions. And even if the questions aren’t meant to be like, why are you doing this? Something, you know, things become personal, to you. Like the Open Data policy was very personal to me, I spent a massive amount of time working on it, it was a part of me. And so having people push back on parts of it or ask questions, even if it was just trying to understand where I was coming from sometimes felt like them personally nitpicking at me, even if they weren’t. So being able to talk through that with them. You know, I kind of called them my counseling session to say, you know, am I being overly sensitive? Or do I need to be strategic and figure out, you know, who to bring into the conversation to help. And having them as a resource really allowed me to write the policy that I wanted, the policy that I thought we should adopt, and the thing that I was like, if I’m in a perfect world, this is what I would want. And the crazy part about that, and where I kind of was like, Okay, I stressed for nothing, was that I wrote it and my whole premise was data are an asset, data are open by default. I shouldn’t have to prove to you that it’s something that can be published. You need to come show me why it can’t. And here these criteria of why they can’t and it can be that it makes you uncomfortable. And I was like this is not people are not going to be happy about this. And we sent it out for comment. We got some feedback from the departments. We got some feedback from the community about stuff that wasn’t the core, like fundamental, you know, foundation for it. People didn’t have comments about that, I got comments about formatting from somebody. Our our comments from the main comments from legal were about formatting and they gave us some language to tweak. But then they’re like, you know, it’ll be easier to do this. And so when I didn’t get pushback about, again, that core idea that data are open by default. I was like, Okay, we have a chance, let’s see if you know, what Council says, and there was zero pushback from Council, they were supportive, our city manager was incredibly supportive of that idea of, you know, of the data belong to the people, and we shouldn’t just be able to say no, because, again, because it might be uncomfortable, and he very much embraced the idea. And so it was one of those things of, if I wouldn’t have had What Works Cities there to support me through that. And to have just those conversations, I don’t know that I would have just been like, I’m going to write a robust policy and see what happens and try to convince people that this is good. And that we’re going to be the only ones doing this, that having that support, got me to do that, which ended up getting it adopted, which I just didn’t see happening without some sort of, you know, back and forth for a bit of tweaking it. And I was really grateful to them for that, because it it was a really stressful time trying to get it done in a short amount of time while trying to actually implement an open data program, which they also helped us with.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:06:40

Well, and for our listeners who are newer to the podcast. If you go back into our catalogue, we’ve done many episodes with What Works Cities over the years, everything from profiling other certified cities, to talking about the program, really explaining how they give you a roadmap to build out your own data program, all the way up through, you know, talking to some of the folks that are in charge of reviewing applications. And so if you’re hearing this episode, you want to learn more head into our Gov Love podcast catalog, we’ll also link to some of the materials as well as Tempe’s write up as a gold certified city in the show notes for this episode. Any advice or recommendations for listeners who, you know, heard this episode, and they got goosebumps at the same time that we did, and they are as excited about GIS and data and its impacts, potential impacts on public health and livability?

Stephanie Deitrick  1:07:39

Um, you know, I think a lot of people get goosebumps about that idea of data, of course, GIS because that’s near and dear to my heart. And I think everything, you know, everything happens someplace. So I always think GIS. But I think that my recommendation would be to look for examples of what other people are doing not necessarily to emulate that. But to get the idea of, you know, you’re looking in your community, you’re seeing, you know, issues that are either, you know, nationwide, just in your, you’re, just happening locally or global. And you’re wondering, you know, what can we do to help that, or to support people who are experiencing that. And sometimes you’re going to get your most innovative ideas by looking at what other people are doing. And it’s not necessarily that you’re going to emulate them, which isn’t bad if you do, but even just starting where someone else already is, can kind of get, be that one spark that makes you say, okay, our community is unique, how can this help our community? The other thing is to not be afraid of reaching out to the people who are doing the work and asking to have a conversation. You know, we had with our EMS calls for service, we work with every who is a company that that creates our GIS software, we did a couple sessions with kind of an opioid mapping group, talking about the work we were doing. And we had another city come to us, and we helped them take the dashboard that we had, and, you know, basically save a copy. So they could start with ours as a template and then adjust it in order to fit their needs. And we were happy to talk with them. We’re basically one, I’m happy to talk with anybody who wants to talk to me about all this. But if we can be supportive, you know, we can’t necessarily build something for people but we are happy to be there to provide technical input. You know, talk about the policy part of it, loop in other people in the city that have worked on the same thing to maybe provide support, you know, so they need to talk to their fire. department, let’s say, and their fire department doesn’t necessarily do this public facing type of data work, bring in our fire department to have that conversation to say, here’s the things that, you know, were beneficial to us. And they would be willing to talk to, you know, whoever it is that maybe has concerns about what they’re doing. And I think just making that leap to say, this is really interesting. I’m curious about what they’re doing, and find a contact and reach out. The worst that’s gonna happen to someone’s not going to be able to talk to you. But it’s, I think it’s really helpful when you can talk to other people who are doing the same type of work that you want to do.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:10:43

And that’s music to our ears here at ELGL. We’ve always said that local government is the original open source network, when you have a great idea, when you’re doing something well, talk about it, share it, push that information out, let others copy if they need to, or learn from you. And it’s just going to make government stronger nationwide. So thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us on today’s episode. I do have one last question for you. If you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Stephanie Deitrick  1:11:18

So my rather wry sense of humor, I saw that and the first thing I thought was It’s the End of the World As We Know It. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:11:29

Oh, wow. 

Stephanie Deitrick  1:11:32

Thinking about that idea of just the way that the way that our work, everything changed last year, right? And if not necessarily, some of, you know some of the changes, may be negative, but not all of them are. And it’s just kind of, I don’t know, the way that they sing the song is it’s kind of this upbeat, happy little tune about something that’s scary. And so I was like, that popped in my head, my friend was like, I don’t know if that’s a good thought. But that was my and then the other is because I am so perky. And I constantly talk about getting goose goose bumps and being excited. Maybe I’m just in an REM mood was, Shiny Happy People. Because I’m going I’m normally not that perky person. I’m very, I’m very not that person. Except for when it comes to stuff like this, and then like, you know, my eyes light up, and I’m super animated. And so I would say so very, again, very separate.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:12:36

We’ll see which of those two sides our producers pick, I have to admit that I thought you were there was going to be more of a poop angle to your song. So I’m really pleased.

Stephanie Deitrick  1:12:46

Oh, I didn’t think about that. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:12:47

I know, well, maybe we could get some listener ideas for another song when they hear this episode.

Stephanie Deitrick 1:12:55

Oh yeah. If there is a poop song that someone find, I would be one, super impressed, super impressed by people’s knowledge and also shamed at not being aware that there was a poop songs We will see what we can do. And listeners, if you have some ideas, tweet it at us, share it with us. And we’ll make sure that that we share that far and wide with the ELGL network. Stephanie, thank you so much for coming on and joining us on Gov Love today. 

Stephanie Deitrick  1:13:24

Thank you for having me. I love talking about all of this work that we’re doing. And like I said, if anyone has any questions about what we’ve done, or any feedback, any feedback, I’m always happy for feedback. They can reach out to me at Tempe and I’m happy to happy to chat with people.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:13:45

Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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