Connecting state and local government leaders

Boston Seeks a More Tech-Savvy Audience With New Open Data Platform

Boston, Massachusetts

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Connecting state and local government leaders

“We’re trying to establish a culture where the default for datasets is trying to make things open data,” said the city’s chief data officer.

Boston traded in its original Socrata-powered open data portal for a new OpenGov cloud-based platform, Analyze Boston, piloting the beta version just in time for Sunshine Week.

The old portal was solid in terms starting the city’s open data program, according to Boston Chief Data Officer Andrew Therriault, but the OpenGov Open Data will improve municipal workers’ internal access to datasets.

Therriault’s team also wants to improve user experience by wrapping basic open data with text and imagery for greater interactivity.

“We’re trying to establish a culture where the default for datasets is trying to make things open data,” Therriault said in an interview with Route Fifty.

Various departments, users and data owners provide their data to the city, which wants to accurately convey the work they’re doing while appealing to “data people”.

A data dictionary explaining where data came from and how it’s updated adds much-needed context for a host of reimagined datasets like rainfall data, which the Boston Water and Sewer Commission has publicized for years but is now being looked at from a resilience standpoint. Crossing that dataset with data on city buildings’ energy usage reveals patterns.

Improving government transparency with data dumps was, in many ways, the “first generation” of open data.

“What Boston and a lot of other cities realize is that’s not a sufficient condition for success,” said Mike Schanker, OpenGov’s marketing vice president. “If there isn’t adoption of data, it’s not a particularly successful initiative.”

Truly making cities more livable involves engaging civic hackers and ensuring the datasets that are out there are “useful, usable and used” both externally and internally—the “second generation” of open data, he added.

Researchers at institutions like the Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University are also being targeted by Analyze Boston. The city had two open data websites—the original portal and Boston Maps—that often duplicated data, leading to user confusion, but Analyze Boston offers a single point of access to geospatial and tabular data. A lookup tool on the main page allows for the searching and filtering of datasets.

(via data.boston.gov)

Under development since the end of 2016, Analyze Boston was beta released because the city feels it’s addressed all major issues with the platform and wants public feedback. There’s no official full release date yet, though Therriault is hoping for sometime in April.

OpenGov’s platform is open source, meaning that Therriault’s team can actively help develop it and add new features. The proprietary, rather than volume-based, approach will yield new options for visualizing data over time, rather than users having to take the data out and work with it elsewhere.

Software developers Boston reached out to made it clear they wanted the flexibility to use released data however they wanted.

The city of Boston is undoubtedly a big fish for Redwood City, California-based OpenGov to land out from under Seattle-based Socrata. The former plans to announce the onboarding of another major U.S. city later this week.

"Boston is a trendsetter as it ushers in the next generation of open data—making information usable and actually using it,” said OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman. “Analyze Boston is just the start, and we're excited to work with other leading governments in 2017."

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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