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4 Major Takeaways From Chicago’s Open Data Strategy

A recent workshop detailed the basics of what the Windy City’s official information portal has to offer.

If you’re looking for a city government with a solid open data strategy, the nation’s third-largest city is a good model to look at for best practices. In a recent workshop, Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology encouraged business owners and other residents to explore and play around with the city’s open data portal.

Created following an executive order in 2011, the open data portal now contains nearly 600 viewable, downloadable datasets from an employee salaries table—which is the most viewed—to one detailing the addresses of properties with problem landlords.

The data lens pages, charts, maps, calendars, tables and filtered views together make for a powerful informational tool for reporting and app development the city wants to see used.

Here are a few lessons from the workshop, hosted last month:

1) There are many ways to search the portal.

The search box is the obvious choice for users who know what they want, but curious visitors should check out the rotating featured and most popular datasets on the homepage.

Data lens pages, which are essentially dashboards, provide the most detailed informational analysis, but users can sort the datasets by view type, department category and topic tag.

(City of Chicago)

2) “Tables arguably are the most important datasets that we have,” Tom Schenk, Chicago’s chief data officer, said during the workshop.

They’re certainly the most interesting for trained observers, providing a granular view of the data and interaction similar to an Excel spreadsheet.

But data lens pages have the best features.

“This particular page was created by the open data team where we took that dataset that you see here, and we created this dashboard view of it,” Schenk said. “So instead of seeing raw information, such as you’d see on this data set, you see some higher-level information, so you’re going to see all the oddities, the ups and downs, of the business license dataset.”

A filter can be applied across all charts and maps in a dashboard using a single tool to, say, examine all business licenses issued during a particular period and by area at the same time.

3) Chicago’s open data portal is not a data dump.

Aside from dashboards, the portal offers filtered views of particular datasets to, for instance, narrow issued business licenses down to those that are still active. Schenk told the story of a bar manager friend who used the dataset to confront the owner about a lapsed license.

Suffice to say, the portal isn’t simply a data dump, and its contents update early every morning.

Charts have also been programmed to track citywide economic trends and all are embeddable.

(City of Chicago)

4) Mapmaking is made easy.

By adding filter conditions to tables, visualizing maps is a cinch. There’s even a heat map option.

The portal is powered by Seattle-based open government service provider Socrata, which has its own mapmaking tutorial here.

Visual learners can view a replay of Chicago’s workshop here with more portal trainings forthcoming.

“We hope to release not only a basic video but also more advanced videos because you can get very complex with this data portal, and you can do very sophisticated things with it,” Schenk said.

(Photo by Brian Lauer / Flickr.com)

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