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FCW : July 15, 2015
16 April 15,2015 FCW.COM CITIES SHOW HOW TO MAKE OPEN DATA USABLE 16 July 15, 2015 FCW.COM G overnment agencies have no shortage of share- able data. Data.gov, the open-data clearinghouse that launched in May 2009, had more than 131,968 datasets as of mid-June, and state and local gov- ernments are joining federal agencies in releasing ever-broader arrays of information. The challenge, however, remains making all that data usable. Obama administration officials like to talk about how government-created geolocation data is the founda- tion of the Global Positioning System and how the gov- ernment’s weather data supports forecasting and analysis — two examples of multibillion-dollar industries that help Americans every day. But relatively few datasets do more than just sit there, and fewer still are truly accessible for the average person. At the federal level, that’s often because agency missions do not directly affect citizens the way that local govern- ments do. Nevertheless, every agency has customers and communities of interest, and there are lessons feds can learn from how cities are sharing their data with the public. One such model is Citygram. The app links to a city’s open-data platform and sends subscribers a weekly text or email message about selected activities in their neighbor- hoods. Charlotte, N.C., officials worked closely with Code for America fellows to develop the software, and the app launched in December 2014 in that city and in Lexington, Ky. Three other cities — New York, Seattle and San Fran- cisco — have since joined, and Orlando, Fla.; Honolulu; the Research Triangle area of North Carolina; and Montgomery County, Md., are considering doing so. Citygram “takes open data and transforms it, curates it and translates it into human speech,” said Twyla McDermott, Charlotte’s corporate IT program manager. “People want to know what’s happening around them.” Demonstrating real-world utility People in the participating cities can go to Citygram. org and choose their topics of interest (such as pending rezonings or new business locations). Then they enter their address and a radius to consider “nearby,” and finally select either text or email for their weekly notifications. The Citygram app, which turns structured data into citizen-friendly local updates, could be a model for federal open-data efforts BY BIANCA SPINOSA 0715fcw_016-017.indd 16 6/23/15 3:42 PM
June 30, 2015
July 30, 2015