Socrata Interview Tom Schenk

Tom Schenk – Director of Analytics and Performance Management, City of Chicago

Interviewed on Jan. 18th, 2013


How do you measure success of your program?

To measure the success of our open data program, we’ve actually taken a look at the community. It’s not very quantitative but it’s certainly important and we will be, in due time, implementing some actual performance metrics around it so we can measure it more completely.

We have a growing economic enterprise of paid applications which are based on open data within the city.

There are also a number of free applications from developers who have volunteered their time developing applications around them. For example, we have the Flu Shot Tracker. We made that data available and Tom Campari, a programmer, created an application and a map around it. It has been replicated in other cities.

And we’ve had a great community that is influencing other cities in the United States with what we have done. That is a very clear indicator of success.

You made some big news with the new Open Data Policy that Mayor Emanuel has implemented. Can you kind of give some insight into the formulation of that Open Data Policy and how that’s progressing?

Yes. It really did two things. One, institutionalize what we’ve been doing as a city as part of formal law.

So before, [contributing open data] was kind of on a volunteer basis. Now, it is directed that departments do this. It is now formerly part of city operations because those are executive orders.

The second part of it, though, is actually tracking progress that we have in the city. Every year we’re going to be releasing a report on tracking measures of how open is Chicago, what have we done to progress open government over the past year, or over the past few years, and that’s going to be new.

This is going to be, ‘How many more datasets have we added? How is that in relation to all the datasets that exist out in the city?’

We’re formulating that plan right now in terms of where is that going to be, where are the metrics going to be and how we progress forward.

How about developer engagement? How is that going? What have been some of your strategies?

We have the best community in the United States and possibly worldwide. I don’t know Europe that well. Great Britain has done a lot. But certainly, in the United States, Chicago has the best developer community.

I’ve been in Chicago for about a year and I came from that community before I joined the city as its Director of Analytics.

So, it’s constant access. It’s constant clear communication. I know many of those guys by their first name and they know me by my first name. They know a number of people here from Brett Goldstein the CDO, to myself, to other developers.

We talk with them on a very regular basis. Every Tuesday we’re at their meet-ups. We don’t drive it. We’re just there in attendance. We work on projects like everybody else. So we have a good relationship with a number of these people.

What advice would you give to a city that’s just approaching open data and want to build a strong developer community, like Chicago? What are some simple ‘To Dos’ that you would recommend?

In no particular order, one is humility, realizing that cities don’t always do an excellent job of designing user interfaces. We do an excellent job of collecting and providing data.

A second piece of that is to understand that the developers are very qualified individuals that can come up with some fantastic programs.

Build up good relationships to treat them well. They’re good innovative individuals. You need to embrace them. They are there to help the entire city to be better.

Three, facilitate them, as much as possible. Here in Chicago, for example, the City doesn’t host those hack nights – we participate. In other cities it might be appropriate for the cities to actually start those meetings, to get things off of the ground, host hack events.

Explore how you can help developers out and how developers can help you as well. In Chicago, new developers come to the Open Hack nights and they can dive in the water. We also have a lot of beginner users that show up, where we’re teaching them how to use our open data portal.

Lastly, be as responsive to the community as possible, considering their suggestions on how to handle your open data program.