'Informed Communities' gives cities a roadmap for open data engagement

A hypothetical flood in a major city. (Getty Images)

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Local governments that want to provide their communities with data that can be used to address difficult challenges like flooding or homelessness have many factors to consider: Who will be using the data? What information will be requested? How should that data be delivered to users?

To help local governments at all levels of data maturity answer these questions and others, the Sunlight Foundation on Thursday released its “Roadmap to Informed Communities,” an open-data framework and associated tools that can be used to form a city’s first civic data project or enhance existing ones.

“It can be used by all different kinds of cities depending on cities individual needs,” said Becca Warner, a spokeswoman for Sunlight’s open cities project.

The roadmap contains several resources, including an updated version of the group’s Tactical Data Engagement framework, which guides cities from through the planning and implementation of open data work with the public. The guide has been informed by the organization’s open data work with more than 60 cities though a partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program.

Since being released in beta form last year, the framework has been piloted by four cities, Warner said — Glendale, Arizona; Austin; Norfolk, Virginia; and Madison, Wisconsin — and was recently updated based on the initial lessons learned from those pilots.

“One of the major things we learned from our work in Madison is that there’s a bit of a divide between skilled data users and other people we’re trying to reach,” Warner said.

With this in mind, Sunlight updated its framework to include provisions that can help cities reach non-technical users with their data. “Tech-savvy users already know how to find the data,” Warner said.

Along with the framework are “discovery tools” and “action tools” that map onto various stages of the framework. Among the resources are a post on understanding user personas, a quiz for local governments to self-assess compatibility between their open data and community need, and a playbook for organizing data user groups.

There are case studies, which Warner said are particularly helpful for cities that already have data programs and want to learn from others.

Sunlight is continually updating its Tactical Data Engagement framework and other resources as it learns more through its work, she said. Coming additions for the roadmap, she said, are more “action tools” and new case studies based on the work Sunlight has done in Austin around homelessness and Norfolk around flooding.

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civic technology, Open Data, Sunlight Foundation
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