Technology is rapidly changing the expectations of users on how government data is accessed. The days of endless PDFs with pages of heavy text and a few pictures for illustration are disappearing. The public expects government data to be presented much like the apps and other items on their smart devices: visually and customizable.

The Challenges With Open Data Portals 

President Obama acted to ensure that more of the data compiled by the federal government was open and available in machine-readable formats such as Excel, CSV and others which allow apps to be developed and visualizations to be made from the data.

The government is one of the largest collectors and holders of public data. Over the last few years, the number of open data portals established online by government agencies – from the federal to the local level – has increased substantially. Although this has made it easier for the public to access open data, there remains a challenge for users to visualize and analyze multiple data points for their neighborhood or street.

This is because many of the portals provide mapped visualization of one variable, but rarely integrate multiple information sources such as property values, education outcomes, crime, and census data. This problem occurs at the federal, county, state and local levels.

The result is missed connections between related data trends, which can contribute to governance shortcomings. Billions of dollars could be wasted on ineffective programs because of the lack of correlation of key data among various government agencies. Communities are less informed and engaged because of data silos.

Silos in government open data portals significantly limit the potential knowledge available to improve governing, citizen engagement, and journalism. In contrast, when government data is connected and visualized, it paints a richer story of the challenges facing our communities.

By overlaying data sets, communities might be able to conclusively document, rather than just suspect, that poor education outcomes are closely correlated through geography with declining property values, or especially high rates of crime; or that job loss in old-line industries correlates strongly with ongoing population loss. Seeing these types of associations can stimulate the right kinds of efforts to develop community-based solutions.

Building More Effective Government Open Data Portals 

The King County Department of Assessments annually collects over 88 unique property data traits on almost 700,000 accounts across 39 cities and 163 taxing districts. With one of the nation’s largest inventory of property data, the department is developing a new “area report format” pilot project that will plug into the data portals of multiple government agencies.

It will produce a stimulating mapping and visualization platform that allows the user to search property and other data and analyze trends from the county level, to their city or neighborhood, all the way down to individual property parcels.

We are in the early stages of planning and anticipate launching our initial platform in the first quarter of 2015.

With this approach, patterns previously visible to only a select few will be visible to a wider circle of stakeholders.

For instance, economic development trends could be visually tracked so that residents of specific properties could see whether or not they are in the orbit of growth and opportunity, as represented by tangible factors such as new business permits issued or upward trends in property values.

The goal is to provide an easily accessible dynamic portal that provides a platform for users to visually customize data sets across GIS mapping platforms.

Connected Open Data Will Boost Government Accountability

Connected open data helps to tell stories that can better help citizens engage their elected officials and help leaders more effectively govern. It sounds like a simple solution, because it is!

Chief Deputy Assessor Tre Maxie contributed to this article. Assessor Lloyd Hara leads the King County Department of Assessments. Under his guidance, the Department has won national recognition from the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) for innovative practices and high quality work. King County, Washington is the most populated county in the northwest region of the North America and the thirteenth largest county in the United States, with more than two million residents.

* Editor’s Note: This is a guest authored piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Washington Business Alliance. 

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