Cities in Indonesia are on a smart city rush, building swanky new operations centres to handle swathes of data. But there are other ways civil servants can make better decisions with data – and it doesn’t have to start with a million dollar room.

Pandu Putra started Code for Bandung to help cities do just this. GovInsider spoke to Putra to find out how officials can use data in their everyday work.

A good place to start is data on education and health, like how many schools or clinics are in an area, he says. “This kind of basic data is easy to pick up for government and interesting for citizens to use. That’s what we should focus on,” he says.

For instance, “if we know how many students are in an area, we can calculate the student-teacher ratio and we can start from there”, he adds.

Cities don’t have to look far to find meaningful data to use. Fire departments can look at the locations of fire hydrants in a neighbourhood and compare with the number of fire accidents in the area. Are there enough hydrants? Are they located in the right places?

Or the sanitation department can use the location of garbage dumps and population data to create more efficient schedules for garbage trucks.

“The point is that we can use existing data to help improve policy making, instead of waiting for data from citizens,” he says

And if you run out of new ideas, why not ask others? Hackathons are of “great value” to cities, Putra says. “Government sometimes has no idea what the potential of their data is and what they can do with it. Hackathons, competitions or other collaborations open up data to citizens to create ideas and present them to the government.”

Teams do need the right skills to keep data projects running in the long run. While most cities have started by training their own officials, they will have to eventually create new kinds roles in government for data scientists, Putra says. This introduces fresh perspectives in the team, and is also faster than re-training in officials, he says.

Jakarta’s Smart City Unit worked with a community called Data Science Indonesia when it was starting out last year, before hiring its own full-time data scientist this year.

While shiny new tech can help manage cities better, you can start with something as simple as counting the number of clinics in your city.