Open data isn't just for developers

When governments roll out open data initiatives they're often presented as tools for researchers, developers or businesses. But Montgomery County, Md., has found the data to be useful for projects within government, too.

“No one expected” the data to be used internally, Montgomery County Data Services Manager Victoria Lewis said at the Sept. 26 Data Foundation conference. Yet now the county is using open data for a few different internal projects, she said.

The county is starting its own push for “Vision Zero,” a nationwide project that uses county, state and federal data to identify trends, areas, behaviors and significant issues that contribute to traffic fatalities. Prior to that, Lewis said, there was a countywide effort that used data to identify areas where accidents frequently occurred.

The county is starting with data on car accidents. It knows the gender of the people involved, when and where accidents occurred, whether a car was turning right or left, if the collision involved a single car or multiple vehicles and many other details.

New York City and Washington, D.C., are also participating in Vision Zero initiatives. The District released its one-year progress report last spring, describing a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian fatalities, although the city’s total traffic fatalities increased from 26 to 28. New York released its three-year report earlier this year. That city saw a drop in fatal traffic accidents, but there was still a fatal crash every 38 hours on average.

The hesitation to use open data for internal programs can stem from simply not knowing it's available, Lewis said. That’s why she has worked with department directors to ask what information they need and then helped them find datasets that can fill that void, she said.

While the county has found these internal open data applications helpful, it is still looking at ways to make the data more accessible to citizens through artificial intelligence and virtual assistants. This is in the very early stages of consideration, Lewis said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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