How Your Organization Can Make the Most of Their Data

The rise of open data has seen many agencies hopping on the bandwagon and working towards open data policies. However, there is still frequently confusion over how an agency can best utilize their data to meet both internal and public needs.

In order to explore the most innovative and efficient ways your organization can open up their data and get the most out of it, Christopher Thomas, Director of Government Markets at Esri joined GovLoop for a recent online training, “Creating an Open Data Strategy that Just Works: Building Smart Communities Through Next Generation Open Data Opportunities.”

Thomas emphasized that the shift to open data has been a long and slow time coming. According to a survey taken during the online training, almost 42% of the participants in the training work at agencies that do not have a plan to launch an open data effort.

Developing a plan to launch open data efforts is somewhat challenging because the definition of open data is changing on a regular basis. However, Thomas articulated a three-prong definition that embodies open data. He emphasized, “First, data must be taken from within an organization and placed in a centralized and accessible hub; second, that same information must be taken and extended out into the public so anyone can access it; and third, that data must be able to be consumed on consumer oriented applications.”

Once you have an understanding of what open data is, it becomes clearer why now is a crucial time for organizations to start opening up their data. Perhaps most important is that data drives transparency, consequently fostering community collaboration and engagement. This is a critical as organizations start building smart communities.

Thomas explained, “What we are starting to learn is that a lot of people are taking an approach to improve operations for civic engagement but the difference in this movement is the use of technology. Now we are at a stage where technology is what is driving people forward.”

Geographic information systems (GIS) is one way technology is driving people and organizations forward. Esri’s ArcGIS is a platform that utilizes GIS and allows for a comprehensive approach to open government. ArcGIS embraces mapping and operational data in one platform so people can utilize the data meaningfully. Some examples of how organizations are utilizing ArcGIS include:

  • City of Philadelphia, Police Department: The Department is using Esri’s story maps to explain what data is available and what decisions they are making from this data. Their goal is to foster transparency and show the decisions the Department makes aren’t random, but based on the data they have to target crime.
  • City of Johns Creek, Georgia: Johns Creek is utilizing the ArcGIS platform to change the way they present open data. Through the platform they are allowing consultants quick access to data, which then lets the consultants consume the data and kick of projects that benefit the city. Additionally, the city is working to educate the business community on how they can improve their business by using the platform to locate potential customers.
  • City of Los Angeles, GeoHUB: The GeoHUB initiative in Los Angeles offers an innovative approach to how people can look at and deliver information that is meaningful and understandable. The overall platform offers insight into city issues, developer tools, data exploration, story maps and apps.

The technology behind these open data strategies allows for much more effective and efficient processes. For example, Thomas explained that before open data initiatives, those looking to do a project in a city would have to go to city hall and search for the data they needed, analyze it and then develop their initiative, a process that could take days or weeks. With ArcGIS, a developer can go and download the data set they need and launch a strategy within hours.

However, not all open data strategies are created equally. Thomas emphasized that the elements of a successful strategy includes:

  • Data that can be explored: Make sure the data is meaningful to the consumer.
  • Maps and non-spatial data: Maps are great but it is crucial that strategies incorporate both maps and non-spatial data to make the strategy more meaningful.
  • Open data internally and externally: Your data should be available internally to employees and externally to the public.
  • Apps that can launch for immediate use: Make sure the data is ready to be developed and launched.
  • Context of issues through story maps: Utilize story maps to add qualitative value to your strategy.
  • Training and developer resources: Don’t leave developers hanging, make sure they understand what your strategy is and how to best utilize it.
  • Ability to leverage a larger ecosystem: Your organization may be small but that doesn’t mean you have to develop your strategy that way, incorporate the bigger picture to make your strategy most effective.

The next phase of the data-driven decision movement will focus on moving towards a positive change in data analytics as more information is opened up. This will enable organizations to “solve problems through data analysis by combining open data, story maps, and applications, and in turn moving open data from decision making to responding,” Thomas explained.

For more information on how your agency can move towards an open data strategy, check out Esri’s Open Vision, ArcGIS Open Data, and ArcGIS for Developers.


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Thanks for the Philadelphia shout-out! One of my favorite local data resources that’s open to the public is “Philly Crime Map.” This is an online resource that shows what kinds of crimes have occurred in any given area.. It is possible to drill down to block-by block views and filter for time periods (updated frequently) and crime types. This helps me directly as a citizen when I am researching a new place to live in the city. Go Philadelphia!