Alexa, Public Spaces, and More Ways Cities Share Data

November 19, 2018 7:59 am PST | Data as a Service

In a raw form, the data a city collects can intimidate and overwhelm — rows of numbers and spreadsheets aren’t innately inviting.

And yet, that same data is chock-full of information and insight that residents can use. Smart city governments go beyond thinking in terms of numbers, percentages, and spreadsheets. Instead, they look for ways data can tell compelling stories.

Austin, Texas; Douglas County, Colorado; and New York City found ingenious ways to get residents engaged with data. These governments provide residents easy access to need-to-know, frequently requested information, and meet them where there are — whether that’s walking a city street, searching online, or querying Alexa.

 

Austin Shares Answers on Construction

In Austin, Texas, crane-free views are hard to come by.

Construction is everywhere in the rapidly growing city. And, understandably, residents have questions about the location and number of issued permits.

Using Socrata’s Perspectives page-building tool, the city of Austin was able to easily share this information, using charts, graphs, and text. 

Austin’s New Resident Development page offers data on residential permits issued since 2006. In addition to the map, residents can also view information in charts sorted by year, ZIP code, and council district.

The page acts like a department store window display: It invites browsers in.

The site shares tips about engaging with the data, such as how to use map widgets to aid exploration. It offers a gateway into the full datasets of information. Residents can access contact information to engage further.

The City of Austin's new residential development page includes a map of residential permits across the city.
The City of Austin’s new residential development page includes a map of residential permits across the city.

 

Douglas County Asks Alexa 

You can ask Alexa to tell you the weather, share recipe ingredients, order products, and to turn up the volume. And, in Douglas County, Colorado, you can also ask Alexa to share upcoming events, road closures, property values, county taxes, and county services, instead of searching online.

The Alexa skill, called “Ask Douglas County,” launched in January.

Using datasets on the county’s Socrata portal and the SODA API (Socrata Open Data API), the county built an Alexa skill to share information available in the community events dataset that lives on the portal. 

More questions are being added based on public inquiries, and a complete list of questions can be found on the Douglas County open data site, DougCodata.org.

 

The Douglas County Open Data Portal includes an Amazon Alexa skill to share community events and commonly requested information
The Douglas County Open Data Portal includes an Amazon Alexa skill to share community events and commonly requested information

 

New York City Promotes Open Data 

Think of LinkNYC as the modern version of a phone booth. These WiFi-enabled kiosks are a place to charge a phone, check the weather, read fun facts and quotes about the city, and discover train delays before reaching the station.

And, as Government Technology reports, starting in September 2018, LinkNYC also began promoting the city’s open data program, using testimonials from entrepreneurs, data scientists, and public planners who use New York’s more than 2,000 published datasets.

In an interview with Government Technology, Craig Campbell, a special advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, said the storytelling campaign is designed to “get the word out about the resources that exist.”

The kiosks engage residents with data. They share information such as upcoming events or construction permits. They meet users where they browse, and they broadcast the possibilities of open data.

“Everyone need not use open data, but everyone should have the opportunity to use open data,” Campbell said.

LinkNYC is the New York City branch of an international infrastructure project to create a network covering several cities with free Wi-Fi service.
LinkNYC is the New York City branch of an international infrastructure project to create a network covering several cities with free Wi-Fi service.

Find out more about how Socrata Perspectives allows you to tell a story about data — and if you’d like to talk more about how to use it in your government, get in touch. We love to brainstorm ideas together.


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