Simplify Visualization Updates with Data Lens: Gainesville, Florida

May 11, 2015 8:27 am PDT | Data Apps & Visualization, Open Data

The City of Gainesville, Florida has long understood the importance of providing data visualizations to their citizens. While spreadsheets are efficient, they can overwhelm non-technical audiences and often lack critical context for data. Updates to Gainesville’s visualizations required a painstaking process in the past, but Socrata’s new Data Lens tools have removed the burden of updates from the City staff and made it easier for citizens to find the information they want.

Taking the Burden off Internal Staff

Samantha B. Wolfe, Senior Analyst for the City of Gainesville, has been very impressed by her initial work with Data Lens, saying that the tools are “… a huge enhancement for the citizens from our point of view, but even more so for our internal staff who manage the data portal.”

In the past City staff updated the datasets and their visualizations at the same time, and maintaining both was time-consuming. Data Lens’s visualization tools automatically update based on changes to the dataset, which means that Gainesville only has to maintain one set of numbers. “Data Lens takes the additional burden to update off of our staff,” Wolfe says, “so we can identify new data, upload it, and within a few minutes at most we’ve created a new Data Lens page.”

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A Successful History of Open Government

Gainesville has been at the forefront of data technology since their City Commission made an open government initiative one of their highest priorities in 2013. The first component of the new initiative was creating an open data portal, and Gainesville’s portal had its public launch in January, 2014.

Almost 18 months later that portal has received more than 500,000 page requests, more than 20 thousand per month. Locally-owned companies embed valuable datasets from the Gainesville open data portal on their own business websites. In February, 2014 the city ran a well-attended hackathon that sparked the interest of local web and mobile developers, and the city continues to work with the hackathon winners to help them develop their app.

Data Lens in the Present and Future

The new Data Lens pages have only been available to the public for a few weeks, but Wolfe is certain that the citizens of Gainesville will embrace this new feature as much as they have the open government measures. The City started by making two data sets public: utility consumption and code complaints and violations.

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The utility consumption Data Lens page tracks all City of Gainesville facilities, including buildings, street lights, parks, and sprinkler systems. The use of electric power, water, gas, and sewage for each facility is tracked, and through Data Lens this information can be viewed in the context of zip code, type of facility, type of resource being consumed, or date.

The code complaints and violations Data Lens page shows potential code violations since October, 2011. It can also be automatically filtered by map location, zip code, date, and type of complaint. Within a couple of clicks citizens can easily see what code complaints are currently active in their neighborhood, or how many complaints were closed without a violation being found.

For Gainesville, this is just the beginning. Wolfe says that they will have another 6 Data Lens pages go live in the next two weeks, and plan for an additional 8 pages after that. The City is also planning a series of training opportunities related to the new pages, and awareness campaigns so staff and citizens know where to find the new resources.

Data visualizations can be a critical tool in helping citizens understand their city’s datasets, and thanks to tools like Data Lens and cutting-edge cities like Gainesville, creating context for government data requires minimal efforts and can reap great rewards.


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