Chicago Launches OpenGrid, A New Open Data Management Tool


The City of Chicago has launched a new tool to help developers and non-technical users alike work with the city’s open data sets. OpenGrid, the new tool, allows users to see how the information contained in Chicago’s data is represented within their specific neighborhood. If a user has a question about city services in their area, they’ll be able to see on a map what services are available and when.

OpenGrid is hosted by the Smart Chicago Collaborative, an organization housed at the Chicago Community Trust. The tool is available as a web-based and mobile application. Funding for OpenGrid was made possible by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, an ideas competition focused on improving municipal government.

As an open source project, OpenGrid code and documentation is available to other cities, allowing them to replicate with their own data.

“OpenGrid builds on City’s commitment to use innovative tools to improve the lives of all residents,” said Brenna M. Berman, Commissioner & CIO of the Chicago Department of Innovation & Technology, said in a statement on the launch. “We will continue to make more data available to the public and enhance tools that make that data usable, and in doing so, put the power of data into the hands of Chicago’s communities.”

Wired has an in-depth interview with Berman on the future of the project that also shows a brighter future for open data in Chicago. This particular tidbit was very refreshing to read – “We don’t tout a PDF as open data,” she says. “That’s just a document.” Presenting data as documents holds back development and analysis, and unfortunately, many municipal open data portals contain virtual reams of PDFs.

As noted in the Wired piece, and also through my own test of the tool, OpenGrid is still a bit too technical for less tech-savvy users to get much out of. But, rendering data through a map is helpful for getting a sense of where things are in the city, as well as patterns of service. One drawback, however, is that the map setup limits the number of datasets that are available through OpenGrid. The data has to have a geospatial aspect in order to work on a map, so as a result only 80 of 600 datasets are represented. More data will come online through the city’s 311 system and the Array of Things over the coming months.