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Two Cities Pave the Way for New Open Data Initiative: Part 2

Sep 18, 2018

Smart Cities 2

Local governments can help drive innovation by opening access to the data they manage. With the right strategies, they can deliver added social and commercial value to their constituents. When this notion of open data emerged in the late 2000s, the concept was to simply publish data and hope innovation would follow naturally. However, that didn’t happen. While collecting and publishing data can enhance transparency and give the public greater access to data, that should not be the only goal.

New open data initiatives should aim for improved operational efficiencies, enhanced government services, and creating opportunities for innovation. This can be accomplished by crafting more sophisticated strategies. For example, integrating disparate systems can generate new insights, or collaboration between departments can help improve government services. Below are examples of both strategies.

Systems Integration in New York City 

In New York City, several business improvement districts and industrial business districts are creating and testing a map-based database. One of the partners is Citiesense, which is a business-to-business software as a service platform provider that aims to make local government data more useful. New York City’s Department of IT shares the Department of Buildings’ (DOB’s) permit application datasets through an open data portal. The data is not mapped in its raw format, so Citiesense is using the New York City geographic data provided by the planning department to align with actual property boundaries. DOB permit applications range from filings for small alterations, such as a renovation to a ground-level retail space, to more involved jobs that propose changes to property use or occupancy. This new data alignment layers the permit application dataset on top of the city map. As a result, users can access this open data on a map to visualize where development activity is occurring in the city. This platform provides real estate developers access to an analytical map that can provide a valuable deep-dive into building permit data for tracking purposes. 

Interdepartmental Collaboration in Boston

Another strategy is to push for greater collaboration between government organizations. For example, in Boston, the Department of Innovation and Technology has partnered with the Boston Public Library to democratize access to the city’s datasets. Through this partnership, the goals are to: inventory, catalog, and build out the city’s first ever comprehensive data catalog; redevelop Boston’s open data portal with an enhanced user interface; and develop and deliver open data-related curriculum to Boston-area librarians. The overall objective is to help librarians curate and catalog the vast amounts of data the local government produces. This interdepartmental collaborative effort is both creative and exemplary.

These are just two examples of advanced open data strategies. More cities should take note and develop similar strategies that create value for citizens. That value can be commercial—for example, creating useful information for the real estate industry—or social, by expanding the role of public libraries.