The open data community is growing, no longer limited to just a few forward-thinking government officials and civic hackers. Now, the open data movement includes a vast ecosystem of public sector agencies, businesses, app developers, everyday citizens, and many more. In this edition of the Open Data Doers Club, we introduce you to some of the personalities and data consumers who are transforming open data from a movement into a network.
Paper-Based Report Regretter
Alias: Government Agency/Department Manager
You sip your coffee and browse the morning’s emails. Suddenly, your calendar dings, reminding you it is time to start preparing for the biannual report. You choke on your coffee, sputtering as you try to figure out how you’ll take on this huge project. Your office is overworked enough as it is. Now, you will have to devote hundreds of work hours to a thousand-page report that will be outdated by the time it’s published. Still, your hands are tied. Citizens, businesses, and other agencies need your data.
For the moment, you ignore the reminder and go back to your inbox. A new email comes in with a subject line mentioning “open data.” Curious, you click on it and start to read. What’s this? There are web platforms that not only make reporting take mere hours and cost a fraction of the printing cost, but they update in real time and make it easy for developers and the public to use? You throw your hands in the air triumphantly, realizing too late you are still holding your coffee. As you clean your keyboard, you think “Who cares?” You’ve just found a game changer.
On-Your-Own App Developer
Alias: Civic App Developer
A mixture of joy and fear churns in your stomach. Finally, you’ve saved the funds to create your own tech startup. But, you have no idea what to build—while you were quitting your job and getting established, a large company released a better version of your original concept. Curse GigantoSoft and their perfect design team! But then, inspiration strikes. A new idea pops into your head for a civic service app. A few searches later and you’ve determined that no one has created this app concept before. But to build it, you’ll need data. Government data.
Another search later and you discover the local government agency that oversees the data you need has published the datasets online. More than that, they’ve done it through an open data platform that makes it easy for developers to pull and query data. You also discover the agency is part of a network where similar agencies all over the country have shared their data, and it’s all available through the same system. A maniacal laugh rolls out of you, and your grumpy-faced cat, Cheeseburger, bolts from your lap. This idea has potential for massive growth. This time, GigantoSoft won’t beat you.
You’ve spent weeks looking at houses near your new office. A few seemed nice, but so far you’ve been turned off by the horrible school district. You want the best education for your children. Jody, your old coworker, was in a similar situation not too long ago. Curious how she handled it so easily, you call her up. Immediately, she mocks you for living in the Stone Age. Now you remember why you don’t talk to her much.
She points you to half a dozen services you never thought to look for, starting with Zillow’s “Nearby Schools” service. Another place she directs you to is the city’s budget app, which shows exactly how much funding is going to each school and how it’s being used. Then she points you to an app that provides health inspection records for schools and other public facilities. You’re amazed by all these new services, but skeptical of the accuracy of the data. “It all comes from the government,” Jody explains. “They publish it to a data network and companies like mine turn it into user-friendly apps so knuckleheads like you can keep from producing more knuckleheads.” You thank Jody for the lesson, a tinge of venom in your voice.
Disgruntled Pothole Hater
Finally, after two hours of screaming in the car, your eight-month-old niece, Linnea, has fallen asleep. Relief morphs into anxiety and fear as you come upon the dreaded pothole at the corner of 4th Street and Pine. You consider turning around, but the road isn’t wide enough and someone is coming up behind you. Carefully, you attempt to drive around it, but the ever-widening pothole now dominates the street. The car lurches as you drop down into the Pothole of Despair. Linnea’s head jostles forward and her face scrunches up. Her protest is swift and loud.
You drive on, fuming with anger. You wonder why the city still hasn’t fixed such a gigantic pothole. Twenty minutes later, Linnea is back asleep and you’re in your driveway. You pull out your phone and begin looking up information on the pothole. The local Craigslist rant section points you to the city’s 311 app, which helps people file claims with the city, find out who else is concerned with a particular issue, and see if anything is being done about it. After downloading the app, you look up the pothole and see that it’s scheduled for repair tomorrow. If only you’d scheduled your niece’s visit for a day later. But at least you know the pothole isn’t going to be an issue for much longer, and you know how to get the ball rolling the next time you have a city issue.
Out-of-Work Construction Supplier
Sales have been slow the past few months. It seems like the competition is always one step ahead, and you’re starting to rethink your decision to open Breezy Lights, a specialty store for lights and fans. Out of desperation, you pick up the phone and call the local permits office to ask if there are any pending construction requests. Jasper, the friendly old man on the other end, directs you to a short list of online applications that use the permit office’s data to help contractors just like you.
Moments later, you’re on the Internet looking at the apps Jasper recommended. They’re a dream come true. Building Eye maps and provides details on every current and pending construction project in your area. Civic Insight shows patterns in issues affecting local properties, helping you to identify spots that might need some upgrades. You realize this must be why your main competitor, Lights ‘N Fans, has been so far ahead of you lately. You begin to write down a series of properties to contact and make a note that you owe Jasper an Arnold Palmer.