5 Members of the Open Data Community

May 22, 2014 8:00 am PST | Data as a Service

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Open Innovation magazine.

From government officials and software developers to everyday citizens going about their business, the power of open data impacts us all. In our new series, Open Data Doers Club, we introduce you to the people who make up the open data community to show how open data helps improve their lives. In this edition, you will meet common American public officials and urbanites.


City Technology Picker-Outer

Alias: Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

You have a meeting with a dozen city leaders tomorrow to discuss technologies that could help agencies better convey information to the public. You know their objective is to improve performance, set smarter goals, and track progress toward those goals. You’ve already proposed creating an open data portal for the city, but that’s just the first step of making open data useful to your citizens. You are hard at work talking with your developer contacts, looking to other cities for examples, and scouring the web for possible solutions.

Chief Technology Officer, a performance measurement dashboard is what you’re seeking. Cities like Kansas City, Missouri are already using dashboards to track progress toward city goals and the performance of city services. Many have also used dashboards to identify service redundancies or gaps, share information between agencies, and show the public how the city is progressing toward key goals. So go ahead, do your research into performance measurement dashboards and walk into your meeting with confidence, knowing that you have at least one great solution to propose. 

Teacher Standing In Front Of Whiteboard

City Data Accessibility Advocate

Alias: Chief Digital Officer (CDO) 

You sit at your desk reading email and listening to phone messages. The feedback is clear: citizens want easier access to government data. Government workers are overwhelmed by too many data requests from citizens. City leaders need a better way to garner public support and feedback for potential projects. It seems like conventional methods of communication are failing to serve at all ends. That’s why the city hired you, Digital Guru. It’s your job to find a solution to this communication barrier using new and innovative technologies.

Chief digital officer, the solution you should seriously consider is a cloud-based, publicly accessible data repository—also known as an open data portal. Government agencies can upload data they want to share with the public, and it would be readily accessible to citizens on any device with an Internet connection. City leaders could use the portal to address and engage the public masses. Everyone would win, and maybe, just maybe, they would finally erect a statue of you as the hero that ushered in a new era of civic engagement.

Finance Fanatic

City Finance Fanatic

The public meeting has just started. You shuffle through pages and pages of city finance data, getting everything in order for the big reveal. You’re going to demand to know why the city needs to raise taxes to pay for a new park when they could be diverting funds from redundant services and making expensive programs more cost-efficient. Then, clumsy old Jane from the PTA trips and spills her coffee all over your report. You watch in horror as the ink runs and your data disappears before your eyes. The beautiful graphs you spent all night making in Microsoft Excel are gone. 

What calamity Jane has brought upon you and all the taxpayers of the city! Financially concerned citizen, what you need is open data. A financial dashboard and open data portal like those used in San Mateo, California, could have saved you hours of phone calls, financial analysis, and chart-making. You could have searched record data all the way down to individual checks and justified some of your less evidence-backed points. You could have auto-generated graphs with the click of a few buttons. And best of all, you could have easily saved and shared your findings online with other citizens, safe from Jane’s klutzy sabotage.


Rackless Seattle Cyclist

You maneuver from street to crosswalk like a graceful unicorn on figure skates. You are doing the dance of the bike commuter; you are a being that is half pedestrian and half vehicle—the pinnacle of urban transportation. The morning mist dampens your face as you breathe in the salty Puget Sound air. Unlike cars and buses, cycling is free, and calories are the only fuel needed to power your mission. You roll to a stop and as you reach for the Clif bar in your pocket, realization strikes: there’s no place to lock up your bike. Looking about, you wonder where the nearest bike rack is.

Seattle cyclist, open data is for you.  What you don’t know is that there isn’t a bike rack within a three block radius, and the area you’re in is prone to bike thefts. But with mobile apps like Veloracks powered by city data, you can always find the bike rack closest to your current location. And with the Seattle Police Department publishing up-to-date crime data on Seattle’s open data portal, you can look up just how safe the area will be for your two-wheeled baby.

Man descending stairway with trash bag

Missed Trash Day (AGAIN) Suburbanite

While going about your business, the unmistakable beeping of a garbage truck echoes in the distance. Realization and panic arise. You forgot to take out the trash – again. Now you’re faced with three options: press the garbage down and try to make enough room in the can for another week, pull the garbage out and let its stench permeate your living space, or leave it outside and hope it doesn’t attract animals. In the meantime, your miniature dachshund, Schnitzel, is undoubtedly trying already to knock over the garbage and get to those chicken bones you threw away the other day.

Alas, unfortunate suburbanite! If only you’d known about open data. With apps like Recollect, you could have looked up your local garbage day and set yourself reminders. More than that, it would help you communicate with your local government about important city services. Your garbage would have been collected. Your family wouldn’t be complaining about the smell radiating out of the kitchen trash. And Schnitzel wouldn’t be revenge-chewing your favorite shoes. The good news is you have another opportunity to get this right – next week. 

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