Sunshine Week: Sunlight Releases Tactical Data Guide

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As part of Sunshine Week, a week devoted to increasing government transparency, the Sunlight Foundation has released a new Tactical Data Engagement Guide. The guide is aimed at helping cities improve services and citizen experience through data-driven decision making.

The guide offers several recommendations for how cities can move beyond simply putting data online and hoping for the best. The guide is part of Sunlight’s work with the What Works Cities Initiative, a project backed by the Bloomberg Philanthropies that helps municipal officials work with data strategically.

In many ways, Sunlight’s guide and its involvement with What Works Cities is an acknowledgment that cities need to start thinking about open data 2.0. For years cities have been launching portals that contain rough and ready datasets, but those bits of information are really only usable by data scientists and developers. Giving the average city resident a large spreadsheet or a bunch of maps isn’t really going to help them understand their city better without also making intuitive tools available to use that data. Cities initially called on developers to step in, which gave the world a plethora of transit time apps and some cool heat maps, but the next phase will need to involve a heavier lift from municipal officials as well as developers.

Some cities are getting out in front of this issue – Analyze Boston, launched earlier this month, is effectively a revamp of the city’s open data initiative. The new portal focuses on data literacy and usability in addition to transparency. Phoenix, Arizona also announced yesterday that it is launching an open data portal with OpenGov that is focused specifically on usability.

“We shouldn’t just be proactive about data access, but about facilitating use and reuse,” said Stephen Christopher Larrick, Open Cities Director at the Sunlight Foundation said in a statement on the release of Sunlight’s guide. “What we’ve seen is that cities that connect open data to the unique needs of their residents are able to achieve impact and demonstrate its worth.”

Sunlight welcomes feedback on the guide, which is presented as a Google Doc available here.