Developing Innovation through Standards: Building Permits Data

May 18, 2015 1:26 pm PST | Data as a Service
Photo: building permits, open data standards, housing, zillow, sitecompli, open data network

As part of the Open Data Network, Socrata has been facilitating a process to develop a new open standard for building permits data. The Housing and Real Estate Network was the inaugural network launched in July 2014. Since then, Socrata has been working with a community of industry experts, government agencies and developers to address a gap in how data can be more structured and standardized to provide further value and benefit from permits data.  

With the help of a community made up of companies including Zillow, Buildfax, SiteCompli, CivicInsight, DriveDecisons and Accela, we were able to begin a collective process to define a standard for building permits. Why does this standard matter? A useful standard for permits data does not exist and there is great variation in how the permits process and resulting data is captured. A key goal of the Open Data Network is to make data more easily accessible, discoverable, and usable. As data becomes more standardized, its potential use increases by not only furthering potential and reach for apps, but also adding greater context and business analytics for mass consumer applications (like Zillow) who provide a distribution channel to millions who interact with the data on a daily basis. This use of the data demonstrates a major shift in how open data benefits every level of the ecosystem from government to the developer community, companies consuming open data and citizens who engage with those data. The power of more structured data opens up a wealth of opportunities including comparative analytics, benchmarking, and most importantly, providing information to citizens at the ground level who can more effectively make decisions that greatly impact their livelihoods.

Constructing BLDS

Through a number of iterative deliberations that led to an initial draft of the standard, the Building and Land Development Specification (BLDS) standard has now been released on a Github open data standard repository. The standard is developed in a manner where it can be most inclusive, i.e. the number of required fields is limited as to not turn data away, and raw data is always included and mapped to categories where possible. The trick with any standard is gaining adoption, and therefore, this standard was designed in a format to make compliance less burdensome.  

Socrata has been working with our customers to pilot a standard where the pain of compliance is minimized. Automated ETL connectors have been created to the source permit datasets on the open data portals of our pilot cities — including Seattle, Nashville, and Fort Worth — to transform these data into the new specification. Socrata will work with our customers to deploy this standard as a best practice for permits data. We invite input and feedback on the standard.

I want to personally thank all the organizations that have been involved in the development of this standard. It’s been an inspirational process to see these organizations come together and collaborate around a common problem to ultimately deliver greater impact to governments, developers and citizens.  


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