Open Data Values

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Start with Users.

The first step in opening data is focusing on demand. This spring, the Open Data team partnered with Reboot, a social impact firm dedicated to inclusive development and accountable governance, to better understand current and potential users of Open Data. Reboot’s work built on past research partnerships between MODA and local academic institutions, and is part of the Open Data team’s efforts to continue to understand the new ways New Yorkers can deliver value to their communities through City data. Reboot’s research leveraged applied urban ethnography and design research to build user personas and a set of actionable recommendations for engaging new users. Reboot publicly presented the research at Civic Hall in May and published it on the Open Data website. This research contributes to the body of evidence the Open Data team continues to collect to be tactical about engaging users where they are at and spurring demand in communities less familiar with Open Data.

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Encourage purposeful and easy engagement.

Open Data is a platform that should be used as a tool for feedback. The initiative succeeds through the participation and oversight of community stakeholders — old and new. After user research indicated that the digital interface of the Open Data catalog was confusing and intimidating to new users, the Open Data team committed to building a new, more accessible website through collaborative engagement with users. In partnership with the DoITT NYC Gov Lab and Studio UX team, the Open Data team leveraged human-centered design (HCD) methodology in designing the website, engaging high-frequency users in a design charrette and community groups in user testing sessions. The revamped Portal includes a new Open Data Help Desk, powered by the Screendoor application that streamlines several feedback channels. In the four months since the Help Desk launched, the team has received more than 400 new comments and inquiries. The new system not only enables the team to better respond to user needs, but to also collect data on inquiry types. This valuable source of information helps ensure that technology updates and new tutorials are based on known user needs. Substantive engagement must be standard for Open Data.

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Treat the publication of the dataset as the first step of opening data.

In New York City, “open” data should be “useful” data. A practical expression of this Open Data value is MODA’s commitment to Open Source Analytics, an understanding of “analytics” as a process that can be replicated elsewhere. In addition to partnering with DoITT on Open Data, MODA works with City agencies on advanced data analytics projects to make services better, faster, and more equitable. Simply handing over a finished set of metrics at the end of an analytics project limits civil servants’ insight into how the analysis was done, and stifles further improvements on the models. The individual steps taken – including what type of analysis was selected and why, insights gained from subject matter experts, and disclaimers on source data – is just as important as the results. Data analysts working in government should be held to a higher standard of transparency about goals, process, and results. “Open sourcing” analytics efforts not only increases visibility into the way City agencies use data and develop algorithms. It also helps spread awareness of the power of Open Data and data science in municipal service delivery. To this end, this fall MODA will release an online project library and documentation on its Open Source Analytics implementation framework.

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Empower agencies.

By empowering champions in every agency and office, the City narrows the gap between data experts and Open Data users, improving its ability to be a good data steward. This spring, the Open Data team surveyed all Open Data Coordinators (ODCs), the appointed staff within individual agencies who manage data publishing, to better understand their needs. That survey showed that some Coordinators lacked clarity on their role, and what was required of them. The Open Data team responded by convening ODCs more regularly and implementing a new, simpler data inventory process. Additionally, the team brought on new ODCs for the smaller offices that make up the “Office of the Mayor,” which were previously served by a single Coordinator. MODA partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Operations this spring to recruit 40 new ODCs from individual mayor’s offices, who in turn identified six new datasets, which appear on this year’s compliance plan. New data publishers include the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

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Integrate Open Data into citywide processes.

Open Data is a tool to engage subject matter experts and interested novices in the information their City produces, and give them a voice in the decisions their government makes. As Open Data becomes routine across NYC government, we will look for opportunities to make small changes in existing processes and embed Open Data components into more City initiatives. Last November, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation hosted a “Broadband Data Dig” at the Brooklyn Public Library. Policy experts, civic technologists, and data scientists together analyzed and developed recommendations for New York City’s broadband strategy. The data included a block-level look at broadband availability in New York City (from federal data), as well as development-by-development information about broadband at the New York City Housing Authority. Participants used the datasets to help the City develop solutions to address broadband inequities and design broadband data collection and maintenance policies.

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Learn, test, standardize – and learn again.

We must test our assumptions and try new ideas, collect information on our efforts, and analyze our performance seeking opportunities for improvement. Open Data lies at the intersection of participatory government, open information, and pioneering government technology. Like these forward-thinking fields, Open Data is not static, and the City’s Open Data work should continue to adapt to the changing data ecosystem. This spring, the Open Data team added four new full-time staff to its ranks. MODA hired a Director of Civic Engagement and a Special Advisor to ensure that the program remains at the vanguard of the field, while responding to user needs (and needs of the Open Data Coordinators). DoITT hired two new data coordinators, adding to the team’s capacity to publish and maintain datasets. In addition, more agencies than ever are investing resources in their data publishing efforts as the business case and civic imperative for Open Data becomes clearer.

Share your feedback

Please share your reactions and ideas on this year's report by selecting "offer thoughts on this report" below. We also featured seven stories of New Yorkers using Open Data, but these examples are far from exhaustive. We want to hear from you: select "share your open data story" below to tell us how you use Open Data.

The comment period closed on September 1, 2017.

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