Edmonton Reports Directly and Openly to Its Citizens

Customer: City of Edmonton

Edmonton, Alberta’s open data program and “Citizen Dashboard” have proven to be a model of open government. The city has made the brave and bold move to share its performance data with the public, and not just in a spreadsheet of columns and rows. They use the Socrata open data platform to expose progress in many areas to the public instantly.

Working with Socrata, Edmonton has built an attractive dashboard for their citizens that shares City performance measures and supporting data.

A Long History of Open Government

When the City of Edmonton launched its open data portal in 2010, being open was nothing new, according to Edmonton’s Chief Information Officer, Chris Moore. “The city has been open and transparent since we incorporated in 1905. What we did in 2010 is bring that transparency to a whole new level,” Moore says. “Open data was just the next chapter in our DNA of innovation.”

When asked by City Council to research open data, Moore and his team created an open data catalog instead of simply turning in a report to Council. “We wanted to report on what was possible and also deliver a tangible product.’”

The original open data catalog was launched on January 13th, 2010. The data was hosted on an open source software called OGDI (Open Government Data Initiative). While it did create an access point for many types of data, Moore and his team wanted a way to empower citizens to get involved with the data.

They explored their options. “We thought of developing our own open data catalog but that was eliminated due to cost and resources. It was a lot more cost-effective to use Socrata, and we wanted a broader open data community,” says Ashley Casovan, former Strategic Coordinator for Edmonton’s Office of the CIO.

Chris Moore agrees. “We wanted the easier presentation format, better visualization tools, and all of the options around automation and integration with our enterprise data and data that’s stored in other places,” says Moore. Three years later, 12 datasets has grown to 400.

Internal Efficiency from an Open Platform

The growing collection of data came with benefits beyond citizen empowerment. City staff soon recognized the internal efficiency gained by open data. “We realized that putting out data enables our desire to be one city,” says Moore. “Departments can easily see each other’s data and get access to it like the public can, without having to go through additional steps.” Data visualization tools also offered added benefits for staff. “We can now do in minutes what used to take days to create,” Moore says.

With the open data portal, the City of Edmonton has an effective way to reach out to citizens with detailed information about their programs and how those programs are performing. “We thought about the project more holistically than just as one technology project. We aligned with the principles of open, accountable and accessible,” says Moore.

Taking Openness, Accountability, and Accessibility to another level

The City of Edmonton uses a suite of performance measures at various levels of the organization – the corporate, department, and program levels. They cover areas like transportation, the environment, and public safety.

The Citizen Dashboard, a project of the Transforming Edmonton Committee (TEC) built on open data, provided an opportunity to communicate these citizen-facing, program measures to the public in a simple dashboard that is easy to keep up to date. “The City of Edmonton is committed to transparency and accountability, and the Citizen Dashboard is one way the City communicates to citizens what it is doing in an informative, interactive way,” says Todd Burge, Branch Manager of Financial Services, and Chair of TEC. “The organization has had widespread interest in the dashboard as a communications tool.”

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The City released its first set of measures on the Citizen Dashboard in 2012, focusing first on transportation. Measures included traffic injury rates, potholes filled, and on-time bus arrivals. "The Citizen Dashboard and associated open data has given us the ability to provide Edmontonians with timely and relevant information on transportation related services,” says Brian Latte, Branch Manager of Transportation Planning in the Department of Transportation Services. “When we set up the interactive neighbourhood snow clearing map, there was a lot of positive feedback that this was a great way to see how we are providing snow clearing services. Now we have the tools to report how we are doing as the situation changes, to show that we are working hard to meet our performance targets, and to show how our crew schedules impact individual citizens. The Citizen Dashboard provides statistics in a transparent way and shows that we value the trust citizens of Edmonton have given us to deliver for these services."

The City of Edmonton released measures related to livability and quality of life in spring 2013, including Fire Rescue response times, recycling, and attendance at facilities and attractions. And in November 2013, measures related to environment and planning were added on the dashboard.

The Citizen Dashboard presents a compilation of indicators that reveals a lot of information at a glance. Each performance measure is presented with a colour-coded status around a number indicating its state of health. And, by leveraging the existing infrastructure of the open data catalog, a user can click on the performance measures and see the graphical representation of the underlying data. Clicking on that graph presents the actual dataset providing the content.

The City of Edmonton has opened itself up to the public with the Citizen Dashboard. "Transparency in the public realm is a standard to which any democratic government should aspire, and it's a goal the City of Edmonton holds dear," said Graeme McElheran, Senior Communications Advisor for Transportation Services. "By releasing real-time data about services that matter most to the citizens we serve we hope to build public confidence in the work we do every day." Additionally, measures on the dashboard are updated instantly when the data is refreshed. This creates internal efficiencies, provides further transparency, and adds greater value to the result.

“One of the successes of the Citizen Dashboard has been the collaborative approach by departments throughout the City,” says Burge. “The Transforming Edmonton Committee has been a vehicle to communicate and advance corporate performance measurement projects.”

The Road Ahead

“We’ve been shifting our corporate culture to become an organization where the smart, intelligent, trusted professionals make decisions based upon agreed principles, our city leadership principles," says Moore. “Edmonton plans to continue improving citizen access. We want to give citizens visibility into what we’re doing as much as possible. They are all co-creators of solutions and can help us reach the vision for 2040, as set out in the city's strategic plan.”

Staffers at the City of Edmonton have also been collaborating and sharing what they’ve learned about the Citizen Dashboard with other cities, and in so doing participating in a broader open data community.