The Participatory Approach to Open Data

at the SmartChicagoCollaborative: “…Having vast stores of government data is great, but to make this data useful – powerful – takes a different type of approach. The next step in the open data movement will be about participatory data.

Systems that talk back

One of the great advantages behind Chicago’s 311 ServiceTracker is that when you submit something to the system, the system has the capacity to talk back giving you a tracking number and an option to get email updates about your request. What also happens is that as soon as you enter your request, the data get automatically uploaded into the city’s data portal giving other 311 apps like SeeClickFix and access to the information as well…

Participatory Legislative Apps

We already see a number of apps that allow user to actively participate using legislative data.

At the Federal level, apps like PopVox allow users to find and track legislation that’s making it’s way through Congress. The app then allows users to vote if they approve or disapprove of a particular bill. You can then send explain your reasoning in a message that will be sent to all of your elected officials. The app makes it easier for residents to send feedback on legislation by creating a user interface that cuts through the somewhat difficult process of keeping tabs on legislation.

At the state level, New York’s OpenLegislation site allows users to search for state legislation and provide commentary on each resolution.

At the local level, apps like Councilmatic allows users to post comments on city legislation – but these comments aren’t mailed or sent to alderman the same way PopVox does. The interaction only works if the alderman are also using Councilmatic to receive feedback…

Crowdsourced Data

Chicago has hardwired several datasets into their computer systems, meaning that this data is automatically updated as the city does the people’s business.

But city governments can’t be everywhere at once. There are a number of apps that are designed to gather information from residents to better understand what’s going on their cities.

In Gary, the city partnered with the University of Chicago and LocalData to collect information on the state of buildings in Gary, IN. LocalData is also being used in Chicago, Houston, and Detroit by both city governments and non-profit organizations.

Another method the City of Chicago has been using to crowdsource data has been to put several of their datasets on GitHub and accept pull requests on that data. (A pull request is when one developer makes a change to a code repository and asks the original owner to merge the new changes into the original repository.) An example of this is bikers adding private bike rack locations to the city’s own bike rack dataset.

Going from crowdsourced to participatory

Shareabouts is a mapping platform by OpenPlans that gives city the ability to collect resident input on city infrastructure. Chicago’s Divvy Bikeshare program is using the tool to collect resident feedback on where the new Divvy stations should go. The app allows users to comment on suggested locations and share the discussion on social media.

But perhaps the most unique participatory app has been piloted by the City of South Bend, Indiana. CityVoice is a Code for America fellowship project designed to get resident feedback on abandoned buildings in South Bend…. (More)”

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