There is growing awareness that open data can contribute economic and social value. In practice, this happens not only at the national and state level but also, and perhaps more importantly, at the level of local communities. With these localized open data impacts in mind, community colleges and public universities have the opportunity to play a significant role in supporting open data access and innovation.
Lehman College, a senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY), is pioneering New York City’s first neighborhood-specific data portal, Lehman Community Connect: Bronx Information Portal. In addition to pulling publically available data about the Bronx from disparate sources into one location, the portal employs a map-based interface, a design that maximizes accessibility and usability for a wide audience. Users can also explore, download and put to use the over 600 data sets that are behind the maps and charts. Data sets are organized into six categories including: education, environment and sustainability, health, Lehman community involvement, my neighborhood, and population. The platform’s core team launched the portal to encourage students, faculty, researchers and the public to explore data about their community and develop creative solutions to civic problems. Indeed, they are already seeing success on these fronts within and outside the academy walls. Groups that have already tapped into the resource include:
The Bronx Information Portal is quickly gaining traction within the Lehman community. Discussions are underway to formally integrate the portal into the curriculum of a new iOS developer class in the Computer Sciences department. Furthermore, a recent graduate helped to maintain the site and develop a variety of Bronx-specific maps. To reach students outside of the college, the Lehman Community Connects team is forging partnerships with local high schools, including the new Bronx Academy for Software Engineering.
Developers, Designers, and Entrepreneurs
As a featured data set for NYC BigApps (the only college selected), Lehman’s Bronx Information Portal serves as a resource for the annual competition. Last year’s event attracted hundreds of teams looking to solve public problems with technology. The winning team, HealthyOut, helps New Yorkers find healthy eating options at nearby restaurants. This year’s event just launched.
College Faculty and Administrators
Lehman Community Connect administrators hold several workshops a year at the college to more formally incorporate the resource into courses and service learning initiatives. After seeing the platform’s functionality, faculty and administrators from the Department of Social Work explored how many volunteer hours students commit to local clinics and non-profits. Uncovering that Lehman’s social work placements provide more than 134,000 hours of service to the community each year, the department used their findings to help secure a grant for the program.
With ever-growing clusters of information, curating and consolidating data across portals into a more localized repository can help activate people interested in designing solutions to problems they experience in their communities. Lehman College’s pioneering work exemplifies how repackaging open data can advance research and innovation targeted at empowering the community to address local problems.