Slalom and Harvard help Denver with Covid-19 forecasting

Pro bono consultants from Slalom and students from Harvard helped the city of Denver create new flexible forecasting models to predict the impact of Covid-19 on municipal department revenues.

Municipalities are reeling from budget shortfalls as Covid-19-impacted citizens defer property taxes, avoid public transit, and skip public facilities and events (many of which are closed or cancelled anyway).

Denver, Colorado is no exception. The city recently announced a $226 million gap in its 2020 budget.

With so many variables as to the pandemic’s duration and impact, revenues are difficult to project for many cities. Most municipal governments will, however, be under intense pressure to stretch their dollars – since they can’t exactly print money like the federal government, and cannot be assured of state and national assistance to cover massive shortfalls.

Joe Kuntner, one of Slalom’s public sector experts, reached out to Denver’s chief data officer Paul Kresser to proactively offer pro bono assistance in creating flexible forecasting models. Students from the Harvard College Data Analytics Group also reached out to the city to offer their assistance.

Slalom and Harvard help Denver with Covid-19 forecasting

“We did it because one of our clients, who we care about a lot, is in a time of need and is getting stretched further than they have ever been stretched,” Kuntner said.

Over the course of four weeks, Slalom data scientists collaborated with Harvard students and business sponsors from the city to develop forecasting models and solutions which were tailored to the unique needs of three departments: Community Planning and Development (CPD), Transport and Infrastructure (DOTI), and Excise and Licenses (EXL).

EXL manages a wide range of licenses, from retail to marijuana to security guards, and faces a great deal of uncertainty as to whether businesses will be shutting down temporarily or permanently. DOTI, meanwhile, has seen a significant decrease in parking revenue as sporting events and concerts have been cancelled.

Slalom experts mentored the Harvard students, leveraging their knowledge while providing valuable real-world consulting experience.

The forecasts were built with dynamic, reusable frameworks so departments can easily update them as real circumstances and conditions change. The forecasts were delivered in a user-friendly R shiny web application, and feature several dashboards for visualization.

According to Slalom, the city can access a forecasting model which has a detailed level of information, works with multiple parameters, and can be adapted as circumstances change on the ground – all without time consuming, manual mathematical work.

“Now it’s a tool in their toolbox,” Kresser said, “not just for a crisis but anytime.”

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