Chapter 4: Ensure Residents Understand and Are Using Data and Information

Cities can release information in a variety of formats including raw datasets and bulk data, applications, visualizations, application programming interfaces (APIs), maps, reports, infographics, and more. Whether it is geospatial crime data or city financial data, presenting information in an easy-to-consume way is important for both residents and cities to ensure that the data is used and interpreted correctly. Cities across the country are releasing data with explanations and contexts to give their communities an accurate understanding of what the data may or may not reveal.

Case Studies

Indianapolis, IN, is conducting a data preview. In 2015, the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Safety (DPS) partnered with Code for America and the White House Police Data Initiative to release incident-level police interaction data. The public was invited to explore the raw data and provide feedback. DPS is committed to improving community policing and strengthening community relationships. They are taking the first step toward transparency with the release of three datasets: police complaints, officer-involved shootings, and use of force. This data was published with accompanying narrative and clear visualizations to make certain that residents and data users thoroughly understand its context and limitations.

Several cities, including Chattanooga, TN, Palo Alto, CA, and Bell, CA, have built interactive visualizations of their budgets in order to make data on financial decisions more accessible and transparent. Residents can filter by departments, types of funds, expenses, and revenues. Palo Alto’s site also includes a social sharing component that allows users to share data with their networks. Data charts, graphs, and images can be exported from the site and embedded into other formats, which has applications for residents and city employees alike.

Questions to Consider

  • What metadata are you including with your raw data?
  • What additional contextual materials are you including with your raw data? Are you including a data dictionary or other documentation?
  • Does your city have a schedule of the next datasets, apps, or visualizations that it plans to release? If so, is this schedule publicly available?
  • Is the information contextualized and interactive? If not, is there a way to contextualize it?
  • Does your city have mechanisms to contextualize data for interested parties (e.g., city staff with a deep understanding of the data or data dictionaries describing the fields in a dataset) in place?
  • Who is the audience that may be interested in this release? Is your city already connecting with that audience? How can you engage them in reviewing the data, app, visualization, etc.?
  • Do you have ongoing usability testing scheduled? How will you address usability concerns?

Related Tools and GovEx Resources

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