Shared Data, Shared Systems for Open Data: Get Everyone on the Same Page

By Eric Jackson

A major challenge for any large organization is to ensure that everyone is operating on the basis of a shared reality – that they can see the same information in the same way across the organization. By ryancr, Some rights reserved.

That challenge is magnified when the organization is a local government who must share information not just internally but across the entire community. While having a shared reality certainly doesn’t prevent disagreements, not having it makes it effectively impossible to resolve disagreements when they arise.

The problem is that most data lives in silos – in complex enterprise applications, in spreadsheets on employees’ desktops, even in other organizations’ systems. Creating a common reality usually requires those inside the silos to push their information out for others’ use. The result: the quality of the organizations’ overall self-knowledge is in the hands of dozens or hundreds of individuals who are quite busy managing their own sub-realities. Even with the best of intentions by everyone, this rarely works well.

We are trying to fix that in Asheville by re-imagining and re-architecting the City’s information delivery systems as part of our open data program. At the root of the new design is a very simple idea. If we want everyone on the same page, we should just give them the same page, literally.

Take permitting for example. Why not let the city manager, the director of development services, a local developer, and any citizen all log into the same system and go to the same page to see performance against SLAs, for example, or to drill down to see individual permits? That’s exactly what we plan to do in the new systems.

Briefly, our approach is to consolidate the information needed for open data reporting and management in a single repository and then to build shared systems on top of that.

We’re talking about a lot of information, of course, but it is significantly less and simpler than the overall volume of operating data that it derives from. And the process of deciding what to add to the repository also gives us an opportunity to be more proactive in how we manage the City’s information assets. How exactly do we want the data to look? Who has access to it? How should we annotate the data for those who will be building reports or applications that use it? What processes maintain the information? What’s the lifecycle of the data – is it tied to ongoing operations or to an initiative with a start and end? These are often challenging questions, but tackling them is critical to ensuring that our information is accurate and understandable.

This single source for all reporting information is an important step forward, but it’s not enough. How the information is accessed and displayed is equally important – we need to build shared information delivery systems that serve both internal and external stakeholders. So the next step is to extend our SimpliCity platform to include city-wide topics and performance dashboards (both internal, role-based and public).

Both these efforts are already underway. We’ll have a lot more to share about them soon. Stay tuned!

Originally published October 10, 2016.

Tags: Dashboards, Data Management, GIS, Maps, Open Data, Reporting, User-Centered Design

Photo Credit: By ryancr, Some rights reserved.