Detroit Turns to Data-Driven Government and Digital Democracy

February 19, 2015 1:03 pm PST | Data as a Service

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan wants to show residents in his city their government is working for them. That means – among other things – making sure police show up, ambulances arrive, buses run on time, streets are plowed, garbage is collected, blighted houses and lots are sold or demolished, and finances are well managed.

This demonstration of strong, effective government is critical for Detroit, the nation’s 18th largest city, which has been in a precarious, unstable position for a number of years. And, it’s one of the reasons why Mayor Duggan, his Chief Information Officer (CIO) Beth Niblock and Deputy CIO for Civic Engagement Garlin Gilchrist II are turning to data-driven government, which is creating a new form of digital democracy for the 21st century in innovative cities all over the world.

Indeed, on February 19, Duggan issued an executive order and presided over a press conference, announcing the first phase of an open data initiative that will make volumes of non-personal government information broadly available and usable by people and machines without any constraints.  

“Ultimately, we want the City of Detroit to be one of the most open, accessible and transparent governments in the country,” said Duggan. “Making our data available is one of the most important things we can do to keep the public’s trust and foster a sense of accountability within city government.” 

The cornerstone of Detroit’s open data initiative will be an open data portal, which has been established through a partnership between Socrata, Inc., the Socrata Foundation, and the City of Detroit.

Detroit’s open data initiative will be implemented on an ongoing basis. The city will launch by opening up 75 datasets – or nearly 400,000 individual pieces of data – for building and trade permits, blight remediation efforts, reported crimes and other areas. The next priorities will be data for Detroit’s finances, fire department, EMS, and other public safety services.

Detroit has already launched a mobile app showing the real-time location of buses, and it has unveiled a redesigned and more useful website.

In his State of the City Address, Mayor Duggan pledged that the city would launch a new mobile app called “Improve Detroit,” which will allow anyone to report a range of service issues, including water main breaks, broken street lights, illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles, and more.

Duggan also announced the creation of a task force and advisory commission to evaluate and determine the best methods for the design, implementation, and monitoring of Detroit’s open data initiative.

The task force will include Detroit’s CFO, CIO, and Director of Communications, plus relevant city department heads. It will receive assistance from Detroit’s Law Department to decide how to structure access to public data and information. This safeguard will ensure that public records and other data and information can be made easily available to the public in an open data format that is readable by residents and automatically processed by computers. In addition, the task force will help decide the schedule for release of data.

The advisory commission will be chaired by Detroit’s CIO and will include representatives of the community, academic institutions and civic technologists. The purpose of the advisory commission is to make sure that the city is taking into consideration the needs of the community in developing its open data process.

“Our open data initiative will accelerate our transparency and accountability efforts,” says Detroit’s Deputy CIO Gilchrist, “but we’re now rapidly moving into fact-based and data-driven decision making in our city. And, the data will tell us pretty quickly if we’re delivering high-quality services fast enough, and to the right people in the places where these services are needed. If we’re not, we’ll see the numbers, and people will see the numbers, and we’ll improve what we’re doing. From this point on, the residents of Detroit will be able to help shape the decisions we make in city government.”

Gilchrist’s thinking echoes Socrata’s view.

“Our goal,“ explains Socrata CEO and Founder Kevin Merritt, “is to help governments use one of the most valuable and new natural resources – open data – to drive outcomes and impact with their constituents. Ultimately, fact-based and data-driven government will become the fundamental basis for all critical and strategic decisions made in the public sector everywhere.”

For more information on Detroit’s open data initiative — GO DATA — click here. We encourage you to also explore

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