Making Open Data Work

July 14, 2015 12:00 pm PST | Effective Governing

Last week, the Municipal Research and Services Center, the Emerging Local Government Leader Network, and Socrata hosted a webinar on making data work, with insight from three local government panelists in Washington state:

  • Bruce Blood, Open Data Manager, City of Seattle
  • Shreeram Venkatdas, IT Manager, City of Tacoma
  • Mike Bailey, Finance Director, City of Redmond

The panelists shared experiences and best practices learned from their open data initiatives. Although the three cities face different challenges, demographics, and financial constraints, they share many common goals when it comes to open data.

Getting Started in Open Data

Each city’s path toward open data took a different route. For Tacoma, being an open, responsive government was a strategic goal. Sharing information with the public supported this, while increasing transparency and citizen engagement. Mike Bailey, Redmond’s Finance Director, had his sights on democratizing data and believed that today’s technology could help realize that goal. Seattle’s story is a bit different: Socrata knocked on the city’s door and asked for a partnership just after President Obama announced the Data.gov initiative.

What Exactly Did They Do?

Tacoma: The city launched with financial information, but focused on contextualizing the data. In addition to having standalone dashboards, Tacoma also presented dashboards throughout the website — wherever people were looking for the information. The website traffic increased from 200 to 1,000 views a day. Tacoma also spent time defining owners of each dashboard; each owner is responsible for keeping the data current.

Redmond: One of the first projects Redmond did was to show the city’s budget. They designed it around community priorities and capital projects. The feedback from citizens was astounding: Redmond residents feel that providing visibility on how the city spends their money is the most significant thing the mayor has done.

Seattle: The city launched with 80 datasets, but didn’t add many more until this year. After an internal campaign focused on how departments can tell their stories with data, they added 24 new dashboards in the first half of 2015. One of the dashboards shows all of the building permits, which are a leading indicator of the economic conditions. It shows where the city is growing, which just happens to be everywhere at the moment.

What Did They Learn?

From the power of leadership, to unexpected benefits, the three cities learned powerful lessons by implementing open data initiatives.

  • Dashboards are useful in both expected and unexpected ways: Not only do they aid key stakeholders, but dashboards also allow departments to share information easily. In fact, Redmond has ditched slide decks in favor of dashboards at City Council meetings. Even for decision-makers, capital budgets can be complex — presenting them in a rich, geospatial way makes it easier for everyone to understand.
  • Elevating the conversation: Providing open data not only increases citizen engagement, but also raises the level of conversation. A more informed public makes the dialogue more meaningful.
  • Leadership is key: To really get momentum on an open data initiative, leaders should  make it a mandate, instead of an optional effort. Establish good governance with representation from all departments.
  • Surprises await: There are many positive outcomes that can’t be predicted. For instance, Seattle’s efforts led them to a partnership with Open Seattle — a non-profit organization, who has been instrumental on how to make data better for citizens.

What’s Next

Tacoma is looking at linking open data to a performance-driven organization. The city want to show its top goals and how they’re tracking to them. Redmond also wants to tie performance metrics to their budget to increase accountability and show off progress. Seattle will publish goals from all executive branches reporting to the mayor.

One thing the three cities agree on: sharing information such as budgets, project statuses, and performance reports is becoming more and more of an expectation.

Watch the full webinar to learn more from Seattle, Tacoma, and Redmond’s open data initiatives.

 

 


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