The Interaction of Open Data and Constituent Services

October 16, 2014 8:10 am PST | Data as a Service

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at]

Municipalities are frequently seeking new ways to engage their constituents. For many, deploying a 311 call center or a centralized customer service function is the initial step taken to communicate directly with constituents. At a basic level, these centers allow interaction with constituents as well as provide timely, accurate responses to information and service requests. More advanced centers integrate their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, that typically fuels the center, with GIS, work order management, or even licensing and permitting software to supply constituents with a “one stop shop” experience.

Though municipal leaders are very pleased with the performance data they are collecting, the initial excitement tends to wear off when they begin to tackle the issue of how to share and leverage data to enhance performance and create better communication with constituents. As constituents demand more data, and better access to it, municipalities across the board are racing to:

  • Enhance transparency about the municipality’s own operations • Actively partner to develop innovative solutions
  • Identify and drive improved municipal accountability
  • Target solutions to meet specific constituent needs

Below are just a few examples of how cities leveraging open data to achieve these goals.

Showcase: City Successes With Open Data

City of Chicago Data Portal Chicago, IL

In 2012, The Chicago Tech Plan developed Initiative 14, in which Mayor Emanuel issued an executive order ensuring the continual release of new data, and empowering the Chief Data Officer to work with other City departments and agencies to develop new datasets. The City is adhering to an aggressive schedule for releasing new datasets to the public and updating existing sets. The Initiative also works to facilitate ways the City and others can use data to help improve City operations.2

The City has secured some rapid results from this initiative, including uploading more than 1,000 data sets on-line. Constituents have then used these datasets to develop apps that better the community, including a flu shot finder and an approach that rapidly and accurately pinpoints the City’s rat population.

Open Data KC City, MO

One of the leading mid-sized cities to launch an open data program with more than 3,000 sets, Kansas City is making a concerted effort to place more community-based data on-line. They are planning to publish a court scheduling data set for housing court-related issues that would inform citizens of upcoming dates so they could participate and/or testify. In addition, their dangerous buildings data set has helped community leaders better monitor potential crime-related issues in their neighborhoods.

Kansas City is also using the data to help make better decisions. Historically, the city has focused on spending time, resources, and funding on street re-paving, under the assumption that these are the kind of datasets citizens want. They cross-referenced street re-paving data with citizen satisfaction data and realized that removing litter from the streets, painting cross walks, and keeping the roads striped were much more important than re-paving, and led to higher satisfaction scores. This data helped Kansas City retool their street maintenance program, saving the city money while simultaneously increasing citizen satisfaction.

Data SF San Francisco, CA

One of the pioneers in the open data space, San Francisco, recently re-launched their citizen portal to make data more easily searchable. The portal is broken into three sections to help those who are not data specialists easily locate data relevant to them:

  • Categories (Economy and community, transportation, public safety, etc.)
  • Department (311, public works, planning, etc.) • Data Types (Charts, maps, calendars, etc.)

Recently, the City also has leveraged internal data to develop innovative programs that address longstanding problems such as helping the City’s homeless population secure easier access to shelters. Furthermore, additions to the City of San Francisco 311 Explorer application allows 311 data, dating back to 2008, to be searched by case status, supervisor district, and date range. A newly appointed CDO will continue innovation by following the City’s recently released Open Data Strategic Plan.

Though many larger cities appear to have taken the lead with open data visualization initiatives, there are other smaller and mid-sized municipalities that have made great advances in this area including:

  • Hartford Data Hartford, CT
  • City of New Orleans New Orleans, LA
  • Halifax Open Data Catalogue Halifax, Nova Scotia

Want more? Download the Getting Started with Open Data Guide.


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