The City of Seattle Tells a Story With Data Lens

May 19, 2015 4:00 am PST | Data Apps & Visualization, Data as a Service

For years the City of Seattle has made open data a technological priority, so it comes as no surprise that the City was one of the first local governments to use Socrata’s new Data Lens tools. Their data portal,, currently features eight Data Lens pages and the City is already planning to add more.

Neil Berry, Open Data Lead for the City of Seattle, says that the Data Lens project was easy to sell to colleagues right from the very beginning. “People said, ‘Just go do it!’ For the most part it’s easy to put together and it makes sense when people see how it works.”

Berry started the Data Lens project by creating pages for the datasets that had the widest range of usage. Additionally, datasets with a lot of categories are unwieldy in tabular form and lend themselves well to the visual tools that come with a Data Lens page.

Data Lens in Action

Seattle’s most popular Data Lens page so far is titled “Seattle Police Department 911 Incident Response”. Here residents can view every incident of police responding to a 9-1-1 call, and the page includes records from 2010 right up to four hours ago. To protect police officers and the public, events are only added to the dataset once it is considered safe to do so.

The results can be sorted by zip code or by the precise incident location on a map. The data can be filtered by the year or month the incidents occurred, or by the type of incident. For example, within a few mouse clicks a resident can easily see how many traffic related calls were made from their neighborhood during a holiday weekend.

Seattle Data Lens Page

Another popular Data Lens page for the City of Seattle displays building permit history from 2000 to the present day. The page features date, location, and category filters that function similarly to the 911 Incident Response page but includes an additional feature: a search field for Permit Applicant Name. Someone who is interested in finding the property owner, contractor, design professional, or other agent associated with building permits can simply type the name and have the results displayed in a user-friendly, visual manner.

The Tools of the Future

Data Lens was publically launched just under three weeks ago, but the 911 Incident Response page has been viewed over 1300 times already. However, internal uptake has still not been as fast as Berry initially expected. He’s hoping that future iterations of the tools, including more chart and map customization, will make the value of Data Lens even more obvious to City employees.

“The people who are buying into open data are not yet buying into using Data Lens to tell a coordinated story,” Berry says. “Once they do, they’ll realize that it makes telling that story a lot easier.”

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