Open data front and center in Chicago

Chicago released its first open data report, providing a progress report on current and new initiatives for 2014. 

Overall, the number of data sets and user downloads of city data has more than doubled since 2011, according to the report. As of Dec. 20, 2013, the data portal ( held 592 data sets. The data, available in a spreadsheet format to the public and developers, can be used to create maps, graphs and applications. In one year, the amount of data accessed grew over 200 percent. 

Chicago is also posting select data to GitHub using a “business-friendly MIT license,” and giving the civic-developer community a chance to propose edits and detect errors.  The City of Chicago Data Dictionary – provides metadata on each of the city’s data sets, including databases not published on the portal. 

“The Open Data Annual Report reflects the strides the city has made in the interest of transparency and outlines our goals for making Chicago a national leader in civic and digital innovation in the next year,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, when he announced the report’s release earlier in February. 

In addition to providing an update on Chicago’s open data efforts to date, the report outlines several new initiatives for 2014: 

  • Promoting open data in the procurement process.
  • Increasing coordination between the city and Cook County in releasing related data sets.
  • Releasing at least 25 new data sets, including additional data on 311 calls, city-owned assets, business violations, specific public safety and hazard violations as well as building code violations.
  • Expanding and updating its mobile, social media, and online technology to increase and improve communication and interaction with residents.
  • Consolidating local government data centers. 

Chicago will also analyze Freedom of Information Act requests to identify frequently  requested data sets and post them to the data portal. The portal will have a new, public method to solicit suggestions for new data sets, and the city will create and maintain an open data blog for feedback to portal users. 

"My vision is one where that data portal is really a platform for conversation and growth about the city, the services we provide and the innovations we support based on that data and the platform," said Brenna Berman, Chicago's chief information officer and commissioner of the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) in a February Chicago Tribune article

Many independent developers have created apps using Chicago’s data, including Chicago Works, which allows residents to make service requests to 311 and track them as they are addressed, and, which lets users look up their car by license plate, make, or model and find out if it has been towed or relocated. A full list of city data apps is available on the city's website.

Chicago is one of several state and local government agencies strongly investing in open data initiatives. Philadelphia, in honor of Data Innovation Day, released a guidebook to provide advice and information to city departments and agencies on releasing open data – lessons learned from developing its own open data portal. Raleigh, N.C.’s open data initiative is currently under way, with the city also promoting open source as well as open access as part of its efforts to be a fully open city.  

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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