Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the Week of June 1, 2015

June 5, 2015 5:59 am PST | Data as a Service

This week, the open data spotlight shines on citizen engagement at the local level. In Ohio, a taste of financial transparency leaves the public wanting more, while both Detroit and the U.S. Census Bureau move forward with city-based open data innovation.

All Aboard Ohio’s Financial Transparency Train

“ has been online for several months,” providing searchable data on seven years — $408 billion — of state spending, report Jim Letizia and Karen Kasler on State Treasurer Josh Mandel hopes citizen involvement will spur more local governments and school districts to join the state’s financial transparency effort. “At a certain tipping point, it will become uncomfortable” to be one of the few remaining municipalities or districts whose information isn’t online and transparent, Mandel predicts. Letizia and Kasler also note the push from Ohio open data advocates to improve “public records accessibility, open meetings, whistleblower protection, and conflicts of interest among lawmakers.”

New CTO for U.S. Health and Human Services

Susannah Fox, a self-proclaimed “health data geek from way back,” is the new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for U.S. Health and Human Services, announces Building on the innovation of her predecessors Bryan Sivak and Todd Park, incoming CTO Fox wants to further leverage health data, and believes, “We’ve only just begun to harness its power.” The agency just wrapped its Health Datapalooza, which brought together “startups, academic institutions and federal agencies to work on innovative uses of health data.” Before taking the CTO post, Fox was entrepreneur in residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

City SDK for Civic Hackers

Need a project for the upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking? Look to the new software development kit (SDK) from the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on census data, the City SDK features “the most common functionalities developers were building on top of the Census application programming interface,” explains The bureau wants civic hackers to use the SDK and open datasets in its Open Data Solutions Challenge, running June 6 to July 31, 2015, “to address city sustainability issues by leveraging economic, environmental, social, cultural, and housing data.”

Detroit Goes Open

“Accessing everything from crime reports to property data was a muddy, annoying and painful process,” says, but the city’s new open data portal now delivers details on municipal services and operations. “Almost everything is there, from bike routes to road signs to police data to Detroit Public School locations.” The city is holding a two-day hackathon to develop apps for the data, with a $5000 prize to the winning entry. Garlin Gilchrist II, the city’s first Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement, emphasizes the need for openness: “The data and the information that we generate is essentially public, so we need to give it to the public in a way that humans can understand and that machines can process.”

OneBusAway Creator Eases the Seattle Commute

In, James Risley notes Seattle transit users “will now receive real-time information instead of relying on timetables.” Thanks to Brian Ferris, Google developer and creator of the popular OneBusAway app, commuters can now access live updates via Google Maps. “This means you may be advised to jump on light rail if traffic is slowing down busses, or told to switch to a different bus line if you just missed your normal bus,” explains Risley. Both King Country Metro and Sound Transit will supply live data feeds.


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