Apr 09 2020

Open-Data Programs Help Cities Keep Residents at Home Informed

With the right people and platforms, business intelligence can do a lot to serve citizens.

Cities have the dual responsibilities of keeping citizens informed while providing them with tools to act on that information. More U.S. municipalities are fulfilling those obligations with open-data platforms, pulling traditionally siloed information from various agencies and presenting it with geodata, making it accessible and actionable.

The excellent open-data platform offered by Philadelphia at atlas.phila.gov, for example, allows citizens to review online activities around an address to see crime rates, service requests and more. With a computer or a mobile phone, residents and visitors alike can enter an address into the portal and see what’s been happening around a home or a business.

With such information, people can make informed decisions about their lives, while city leaders can identify areas that require increased attention. Cities put such data in the hands of those who can use it and empower ­citizens to act.

How Open Data Tools Empower Chief Data Officers

Open data fosters trust and transparency in government, as it increases civic engagement and encourages community participation. Chief data officers can shepherd open-data programs into existence for cities by marshaling resources across agencies. Whether these agencies normally work together or not, a chief data officer can act with the independence necessary to bridge organizations.

A chief data officer also should have the authority to develop and test an open-data strategy and enact next steps, like producing a standard data format and determining platforms to analyze and present data.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how data analysis opens doors for new outcomes at state and local agencies.

Cities Marry Data and Geospatial Information

When presenting data to the public, timeliness is important. Chief data officers ensure the timely publication of open data, releasing it and updating it quickly so it remains relevant. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit championing open data, notes that chief data officers can engage the public with the data and collect feedback on it.

To maximize access to open data, municipalities must maintain it on a publicly available website. Cities may also produce applications that use the data, including applications that field service requests and other input.

Municipal leaders should adopt an open-data platform to collect and analyze data. Projects like the Open Data Platform initiative provide developers with a model to build interoperable applications and services across platforms, easing development and integration. ODPi is supported by major vendors like IBM and Dell EMC. Cities also should consider data visualization tools that provide context for people trying to make sense of what they are seeing. 

For cities, many visualization tools map open data against geospatial information. Typing in an address gives you a map of the surrounding area with a graphic representation of the data’s significance.

Pittsburgh presents open-data visualizations that are easy to understand through its Burgh’s Eye View tool at pittsburghpa.shinyapps.io/burghseyeview, and Chicago feeds data into its OpenGrid tool at chicago. opengrid.io/opengrid. These are great examples of geospatial depiction of data.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Follow a discussion among officials as to how data integration can improve county social services.

Open Data Requires Continuous Oversight from Agencies

As the Sunlight Foundation advises, open data requires continuous attention and monitoring to remain effective. City managers should assess their open-data strategy at least once a year.

To that end, it’s important that agencies come together through a governance council or other means to ensure they are providing chief data officers with all of the information required and to think of new ways to deploy that information in the service of municipal citizens. As seen in the examples cited in this column, cities can gather input, bridge divides and foster inclusiveness with a successful open-data program.

Maintaining an open-data program makes a city more “transparent, accountable and participatory,” says the Sunlight Foundation.

Pgiam/GettyImages