Open Data – The Future of Data Driven Community Development?

As we’ve discussed on the blog, collecting and analyzing data is key to finding and evaluating the best solutions to the challenges facing the communities in which we work and live.  It is no secret that federal, state, and local governments are the repositories for millions of important data points about the places we live – from crime statistics to public health information to business data.  With so much data being collected and stored by government agencies, the question becomes – how do we start to use this data to improve our local communities?

In recent years, advocates for open government data have been pushing leaders to make this information available to the public and major cities including Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, as well as the federal government have undertaken major efforts to make their data freely available.  As more information has become available, savvy citizens have begun to analyze the data to create useful web applications for the public.

For example, in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel last year signed an executive order requiring the city of Chicago to begin releasing data to the public.  As the city has begun to make data available, residents are brainstorming data uses during weekly “hack nights.”  Hosted by Open City, a volunteer-run organization which has been building web apps with city data, the events bring together a wide range of individuals from urban planners and Ph.D. students to computer scientists and web developers – working to develop apps with the goal of “improv[ing] transparency and citizen understanding of our government.”  Current projects include a searchable database of city lobbyists and a crime data visualization app.

And just as Chicago residents are collaborating to make city data more meaningful and useful for the average citizen, the City of Chicago will undertake its own efforts to analyze and interpret data to improve city life. The city was recently awarded a $1 million prize from Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop Chicago’s Smart Data Platform, a data analysis tool that will be open-sourced and “provide leaders the ability to analyze millions of lines of data in real-time; [and] helps make smarter, earlier decisions to address a wide range of urban challenges.”

While the open data movement is still in its infancy, great potential exists for citizens and government to work together to harness the power of data and develop solutions to some of the greatest challenges that our society faces.  As we move forward, how do we foster collaboration and innovation and begin to use open data to further community and economic development in our communities?

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