Giving Context to Open Data in Williamsburg, VA

Mark Berham, Director of Information Technology for the city of Williamsburg, VA, spoke with us at Socrata Connect in May 2017.

Berham has worked for the city for 15 years and has seen a lot of change in the city's approach to data management.  Data has moved from individual data silos to a broader data management umbrella supported by his team.

Williamsburg has been doing performance management since 1994, and the program has expanded from internal budgeting to public reports. When the city "hit a wall" and was unable to tell a clear story about the data, they knew it was time for a new platform.

With the Socrata platform, all of the city's data can be piped into one place. Berham has enjoyed working with Socrata and learning from their experience with larger governments. Socrata Perspectives has allowed citizens to understand data and how it affects their lives in Williamsburg. The staff can easily extract data, such as police and fire data, and put it into a usable form with context to help citizens understand what it means. The city also uses this data to inform their decision-making, such as EMS staffing.

Berham encourages other small governments to take a close look at the data they need to be measuring, and stresses the importance of adding context to the data. According to Berham, "It doesn't matter if you're a small organization or a large federal bureaucracy... the data should be driving those decisions."

Looking ahead, the city is building on its existing open data platform by publishing financial data to allow full financial transparency with its community, "warts and all."