city-based coders

Big data in Raleigh: Opening up and reaching out

The City of Raleigh, N.C., is working with other cities to combine data resources in order in order create  a series of large, interoperable data sets on a scale that could sustain a major urban or regional data application or business.

The project, called the Multi-City Innovation Campaign, so far has brought together the cities of Raleigh, Boston, the metro government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., and Palo Alto, Calif.

While a single city’s data offerings might not be big enough to build a program around, the multi-city open data marketplace could help civic app developers and entrepreneurs create applications, according to Jason Hare, Raleigh’s open data program manager.

The campaign features an app challenge in which residents of the four cities – and other communities as well – submit ideas for civic apps. Last weekend (from May 30th to June 2) the cities joined programmers from 120 cities in 13 countries for  the 2nd annual National Day of Civic Hacking, where they collaborated on large and small apps, ranging from pothole alerts to apps that offered an easy way for cities to make their budgets accessible.

Yiaway Yeh, the Nashville Office of Innovation’s co-chief innovation officer, said the campaign aims to test the collaborative model, “to see if something sustainable and scalable can result from it.”

The campaign also hopes to cultivate apps that survive beyond the initial prototyping effort. Part of that sustainability stems from the ability to scale an app beyond a single city. The interoperable datasets, Hare said he believes, will make more of an impact than one-off city efforts.

“If you stop at the boundary, you make it less useful,” he noted.

Ultimately, Innovation Campaign partner cities aim to create a “civic marketplace,” according to Hare. “This collaborative, regional approach has since become a hallmark of Open Raleigh and more and more what has become the norm for open data movements across the United States,” Hare said in a recent blog post.

The marketplace “would provide an online forum where cities would be able to identify opportunities to work with and potentially procure innovative IT solutions by finding common problems they face,” he wrote.

“Also essential would be some way for cities to indicate the dollar amount they are able to procure a potential IT solution for, without needing to trigger a significant competitive procurement threshold.”

And while Raleigh looks to extend its open data reach by collaborating with nearby jurisdictions, the city is also restructuring from within to better cultivate its data resources.

Gail Roper, Raleigh’s chief information officer, said she envisions a structure in which data analytics knowledge will exist in a centralized group within the IT department, but also find a home in the city’s departments.

“I do think it is important for departments to begin to develop individuals – or hire individuals – with data analytics skill sets so they can start to work with their own data,” Roper said. She said the objective is to make a basic understanding of data analytics “more a part of the job description.”

About the Author

John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.


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