Engaging the Community

Simply launching an open data portal is not valuable if sustainable communities are not built around it. It is important to engage with these communities to help them understand the data the city makes public, listen to their changing needs, and encourage them to help solve civic challenges. The city’s open data program needs a person, often called a data evangelist, who helps build the connections between internal data suppliers and external data consumers. The following section describes how to accomplish this.

Raising Awareness

After launching a portal, there will undoubtedly be some awareness that the city has removed barriers to obtaining valuable government data, but the program will be far from a household name.

  • Attending local events can be an excellent opportunity to connect with existing communities who may be able to take advantage of the city’s open data. Many cities are home to vibrant civic technology communities with members who actively participate in open data activities. Presenting open data at events not only raises awareness, but also helps to identify new opportunities for collaboration and question answering.
  • Convening roundtables connects community members with each other and with the city’s program. Roundtables can be a particularly effective tool for learning about how individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations are using the city’s data to help stay informed, and they always have ideas for future growth.
  • Social media outreach helps spread the word about the city’s open data. Use existing services, identities, and group memberships to spread the word about data relevant to each audience.
  • Media stories highlight and celebrate valuable use of the city open data. Whether it is a local blog, a regional TV news program, a nationally circulated newspaper, or an international internet media platform, getting the word out about the data and how it has been used invites more people to find other value from it. It also helps other cities note successes and learn from them, improving their own programs in the process.

Listening to Feedback

Accepting and responding to feedback from people who use the city’s data is important to cultivating a culture of openness. Even if the city cannot agree to every request, the city will quickly earn a reputation of being trustworthy and committed to the program. Feedback from people who use the data can be invaluable for helping the city decide to release more data, improve quality, and understand how it is being used. This type of feedback generally comes in any of three forms:

  • Suggestions. At the simplest level, this means allowing anyone to suggest unpublished data which they would like to have. At a deeper level, this can mean allowing the public to propose changes to the published data, which, if accepted, can help improve internal data quality.
  • Questions. Published data can be confusing, even if it is extremely well-documented. Providing a way for data consumers to improve their understanding of the city’s data results in it being used more accurately and effectively. A firm understanding of the data enables better media reporting, fewer research errors, and more useful applications.
  • Technical Assistance. Software programmers may need specialized assistance to access the data, especially if the portal supports advanced features like record querying. If a city is using a vendor to provide its open data portal, the vendor usually provides resources to address these questions. It is important to know where they can be found and how to direct programmers to them when necessary.

Some vendor-provided open data platforms provide different tools for all of the above types of feedback. However, the simplest approach is to provide an email address and ensure a city employee is responsible for monitoring it and responding.

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