- Use Cases
In 2009, just over ten years ago, Tim Berners Lee – the inventor of the web – asked the world to share its data. During that same year, the US federal government initiated a national open data agenda and launched data.gov with just about 47 datasets. Since then, a number of US local governments, small and large, followed suit and set in motion their own data sharing strategies.
In most cases, this resulted in more public information being displayed on local governments’ websites. Some started regularly publishing Excel and CSV spreadsheets with valuable information for residents and businesses alike. Others improved their GIS tools for those interested in geographical data. Many governments also launched fully equipped data portals, with multiple visualization options. Whichever tool local governments chose to adopt, their initiatives seem to echo Obama’s appeal that “openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government”.
Over ten years later, I am confident that most of us would agree that there truly is value in data not only from a transparency perspective but also from an innovation perspective – more so than ever before, entrepreneurs have access to actionable data which they can use to improve resident services. I think that we can also agree that we are only at the early stages of harnessing data’s value to better serve our communities. Sharing data is one thing but making sure that it meets the evolving needs of our communities in the digital age is another.
As your data sharing project is maturing, you are probably wondering whether the technical solutions that underpin it are as efficient as they can be. This article outlines four questions you should ask yourself as you set your goals for your data sharing portal and the metrics to demonstrate its success.
If you follow the news in the data sphere, you as well may have noticed that practitioners are increasingly wary of using the term smart city. The term is indeed a little short of a buzzword and can mean anything and nothing at the same time. If we dig underneath the buzzword effect however a smart city also stands for finding solutions to existing and tangible issues that most cities around the world face. Some of these include congestion, high levels of pollution, unmanaged waste and traffic accidents. A smart city is one that strives to solve these issues and thereby creates a safer, more efficient and more effective city.
The extent to which each city uses technology in order to make its environment more livable for its residents is another question. (If you would like to find out more about the role of technology in smart cities, 👉 read our interview with Ben Green.) The advent of technology does not provide us with all the answers, but it makes it easier to design innovative solutions for issues that will only intensify as urban populations grow. Your data portal can have a role to play in overcoming pressing challenges that your city faces.
Ask yourself whether your data portal has the capacity to ingest data from sensors in real-time and present them in accessible visualizations so that your teams and innovators can use the data to design adequate public services. If you’re looking for inspiration, have a read through this Citilog customer story and find out how a global leader in video-based transportation monitoring and surveillance provides the City of Atlanta with valuable real time traffic data and statistics.
Most local governments put a strong emphasis on sharing data with residents and businesses. And although accountability and innovation are two of the most commonly discussed benefits of data sharing, they aren’t nor should be the only incentives for local governments looking to improve their data sharing practices.
We sometimes forget that the most important users and advocates of your data’s potential can be your own employees and internal administration teams. Data sharing should not be constrained to a data or IT team. When you reflect on how you can improve and expand your data sharing initiative, ask yourself whether all teams within your local administration have access to the data they need to be more productive, make better informed decisions, and serve your residents better.
Make sure your data sharing platform has all the necessary functionalities to enable seamless data governance. (If you are a novice to data governance, we’ve got you covered! Proceed to this article.) If you’re familiar with the term, put this reading aside for a couple of minutes and log into the back office of your portal. Check whether your solution gives you the necessary freedom to grant different access rights to different teams within your organization depending on their specific projects and needs.
When it comes to data sharing, unity is strength. Local and regional governments across the world increasingly appreciate the benefits of engaging with neighboring communities and finding ways to collaborate around public data to solve common challenges. Across the pond, the City of London launched the London Office for Technology and Innovation in June 2019. The initiative constitutes “a new London Councils collaborative vehicle to strengthen the boroughs’ ability to innovate, build common capability and to scale-up digital innovation across London’s public services”. It is likely that as we move into this new decade of data sharing, we will see a growing number of local governments trying to engage with neighboring cities’ data legally, ethically and securely to solve common problems.
When it comes to your own data portal, you may want to think about its capacity to centralize data from different departments (if you are a city) or cities (if you are a county). One way of doing this is to have a data sharing platform which allows for different entities to have their own subdomain as part of your data sharing portal. The beautiful region Occitanie, located in France’s southwest and including 13 administrative subentities (referred to as départements), launched an open data portal in 2018. One of its main objectives was to centralize the entire region’s data while giving the départements the freedom to manage their own data. Using the subdomain feature of the Opendatasoft platform, the region is on a mission to engage with all of its 13 départements. Closer to home, the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management and the City of Vancouver in Canada have also adopted the use of subdomains to various degrees in order to include internal or external organizations in a shared open data initiative.
To close the loop, let’s talk about your residents’ data needs. When you started sharing data, your first concern was probably to make public data easily accessible to your residents. Just publishing the data however does not mean that your targeted users will have the necessary skills or knowledge to become active data users.
More important than publishing data on a public website is the shape and form you will give to your data. To start with, whatever the nature of your data catalog, have you given it a clear homepage with different data categories clearly spelt out? (Not sure what to look for? Browse through the City of Vancouver’s open data home page.) With only a few clicks, your users should be able to see where the information they are looking for can be found and how they can visualize it, download it or share it. It may be worth setting up a dedicated summary page for your most popular datasets so that users who are just looking for highlights can easily find them. The North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management’s open data portal is a good example for this. This summary page about education data shows some basic facts and graphs for those users who are just interested in a couple of quick facts.
For your slightly more experienced users, have you thought about the visualization options that your portal offers? These users are usually interested in playing with your data and adapting it to their own needs. Can they easily filter through the data? Can they view their data selection as chart, graph, table or map? These are questions worth asking yourself if you would like your data to be actively used. And, finally, can they easily download and share the data? If the answer to any of these questions is no, now is the time to think about whether you have the right tool to best leverage your data.
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