Engage Your Community

Promoting Your Open Data Portal

How do you spark open data fever in your community? Try the following suggestions for promoting your program.

  1. Set up a Twitter account for your open data program and tweet about every new dataset. You can also get citizen feedback this way. See the Twitter accounts created by Alameda County @ACData and for the CDO of Chicago @ChicagoCDO.

  2. Start a Facebook page. See the state of Hawaii’s for inspiration.

  3. Invite journalists and community bloggers to an event promoting your site. During the event, show them how they can get the data they need for their articles and blogs, and how they can embed maps and charts on their sites.

  4. Write SEO-friendly descriptions for the datasets you put online. Google’s free Keyword Tool can help you figure out keywords you would like to rank for, such as “[my town] open data.”

  5. Embed data and visualizations on your .gov site. See this example of a “Where to Launch in Oregon” map on oregon.gov.

  6. Federate your data to cities.data.gov, or states.data.gov, or create a convergence site with your neighbors. This effort will increase your data’s reach.

  7. Allow your users to create their own views of your data, such as maps and charts, and share them on the Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media outlets.

  8. Get your chief executive to announce important improvements to the press. See this press release from the office of Mayor Emanuel in Chicago.

  9. Submit your site for awards, such as the “Digital Government Achievement Awards.”

  10. Engage influencers online through Twitter and Facebook. See our list of open data influencers.

  11. Blog about what you’re doing. See the city of Somerville’s blog post about a pesky rat problem, that data helped them solve.

  12. People want to know your story. Write it down and have it ready for the press.

Kristen Russell, secretary of technology and chief information officer for the state of Colorado, presents the Colorado Information Marketplace “which is such an exciting site because it allows Colorado to take a step forward in data transparency.”

Examples of Success


  • Request Feedback. It’s important to stay in touch with the citizens you are serving. You can set up a form on your site where they can give suggestions, ask questions, and request datasets.

  • Attend Developer Meet-ups. Take advantage of opportunities to meet with people directly. The team at the city of Chicago participates in local, weekly developer events where they work on projects and get to know developers personally.

  • Read our interview with Brett Goldstein, Chicago’s former Chief Data Officer, to learn more about engaging your community

Four Essentials of Developer Evangelism

Socrata CEO Kevin Merritt (standing center in a Hawaiian shirt) served as a judge at the state of Hawaii and city of Honolulu’s Hon*Celerator event.

Read our interview with Derek Eder, civic developer, Open City.

Want to get your open data directly into people’s hands? You need open data developers to create apps. They have the power to put open data to use.

We interviewed leading civic developers and technology leaders in government to find out the essentials to creating an active developer community in your local area. Here are the top four.

1. Publish Data

What’s the first step to attracting developers’ attention? Publish some data. Leading civic hacker, Derek Eder of Chicago, explains his opinion on how to get developers working with your datasets. Read his full interview.

“The Open Government group has been around for a while, and there was actually a period of time when it seemed like it was going to die. Then, this critical thing happened. The city started releasing data. That’s it. That is the one thing that changed. Then all of these people who were already here decided to start looking at that data and making things with it.”

Derek Eder, Civic Developer and Founder of Datamade

2. Connect with Civic Developer Organizations

You can attract developers to your program by reaching out to national organizations, such as Code for America. Here are some tips from Kevin Curry, the director of Code for America Brigade (CfA), a community engagement program. He created CityCamp together with CfA founder and executive director, Jennifer Pahlka.

Connect with CityCamp:

  • Follow the instructions to start a CityCamp.
  • Join the citycamp-team forum and introduce yourself.
  • Copy what’s worked elsewhere.

Connect with Code for America

“It’s building the community. That’s the key thing. A lot of cities have people hacking independently, but building the community is like a multiplier.”

Chris Metcalf, Socrata developer evangelist

3. Host a Hackathon

Are you interested in hosting a hackathon but don’t know where to start? Socrata’s own Developer Evangelist Chris Metcalf shares his recommendations, based upon having attended, co-hosted, and judged the results of many hackathons.

Read Socrata Developer Evangelist Chris Metcalf’s useful guide on “How to Run a Hackathon.”

Socrata Developer Evangelist Chris Metcalf (seated left) prepares with the open government team in Alameda County for their first-ever hackathon. (Photo Credit: Tobin Broadhurst)

4. Be Humble

The city of Chicago is known for its robust developer community that meets weekly and regularly produces useful apps with Chicago’s open data. How do the open government leaders there facilitate all of this great output? We interviewed Director of Performance Management Tom Schenk in Chicago to get his advice.

Read our interview with Director of Analytics and Performance Management Tom Schenk at the city of Chicago on how to build a civic developer community.

What Apps Are Developers Building?

Scott Robin developed “Was My Car Towed?” in Chicago, Anouk S. developed “Help Me, I’m Sick” for New York City, and Woolybear created “VeloRacks” (a bike rack locator) in Seattle. The creativity and thoughtfulness put forth by these and other developers gives us a hint of what’s coming as open data grows.

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Want to see some of these apps in action? Click on the links in the box.