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5 open data projects Delaware should pursue right now

It's a civic tech wish list — including the appointment of a Chief Data Officer, a more efficient 311 service and higher transparency for the state budget.

The Delaware state capitol building, Legislative Hall. (Photo by Flickr user Mike Mahaffie, used under a Creative Commons license)

Earlier this month, the Delaware Department of State’s Deputy Principal Assistant Dana Rohrbough Garber wrote a letter to Delaware urging the state’s technology communities to begin building a civic tech community.
“Delaware is currently publishing thousands of reports, and we are getting better at releasing data in raw formats,” Garber wrote. “Fostering a civic tech community is not just about datasets, though.”
Ain’t that the truth. Once data is published, it needs to be put to use.
So, we asked two civic-minded Delawareans — David Curtis, an urbanist and consultant, and Patrick Callahan, founder of Compass Red and all-around data nut — to come up with a quick wish list of data-centric projects they’d like to see built using state or city data.
Curtis has three specific projects in mind:

  • 311 Service: While Wilmington does have a program called Report It/Resolve It, the app only handles requests and complaints made to the Department of Public Works. Oh, and it has one review on Google Play Store: Curtis said it needs an upgrade. He wants citizens to be able to track progress on the complaints and reports they’re filing through the app. “Not only does 311 help citizens maintain and improve their communities every day, it makes civic engagement more accessible so you don’t need to ‘know a guy’ in order to get something fixed around here.” Plus, he said, it can be a more efficient and effective use of city departments’ time and resources.
  • Open Data for Traffic CrashesNew York City has it. It can help pinpoint where traffic accidents are happening, why they’re happening and what parties are involved. “Around the world, cities and states have begun to use data and smart planning tools to make transportation networks safer for all users,” Curtis said, referring to a strategy called Vision Zero. “Vision Zero isn’t possible without good data,” he said. “A good starting point would be weekly open data releases for traffic crashes by date, time, type, and location.”
  • More Transparency in the State Budget: “Ever try finding a line-item budget for a state department? Ever try finding one that isn’t in PDF form?” Curtis asked. “For us budget wonks out there, this is a real frustration.” He’s right — just take a look at how budget datasets are organized within the state’s open data portal.

Callahan, whose company Compass Red specializes in analyzing social media data, cofounded the Archer Group in 2003 before moving to the Bay Area — then back again, bringing some of that San Fran civic tech magic home with him. Callahan is on the forefront of Delaware’s fledgling civic tech community, rallying advocates and creatives across sectors.

Callahan is even part of the group responsible for resurrecting #dataDE — a hashtag abandoned by Delaware’s Government Information Center after its data duties were absorbed by the Department of Technology and Information.
Like Curtis, Callahan also wants to see a better 311 service, improvements made to the open data portal and more transparent budget data. But Callahan wants strong data visualizations for existing datasets like infrastructure investment costs and RFPs to “communicate data from Delaware in a readable way to the masses.”
Callahan also wants to see a focus on crime and living data in Wilmington (a mission that is also being pursued by predictive analytics guru Steve Poulin) and “green stats” that publicize how people ride their bikes daily — something that might be enabled if and when Wilmington Bike Share is launched.
That’s not all he’d like to see.

  • Corporate Index: The Department of State does have an open database for corporations, but the interface is antiquated and the search function renders the site nearly useless. As one of the corporate capitals of the world, Callahan said we need to leverage the use of our unique data points. “A corporate index that makes us the standard globally,” he said. “We are known for our corporations — why can’t we be the standard for various corporate indexes?”
  • Chief Data Officer: Callahan wants to see the appointment of a public official whose sole responsibility is managing government data — which he said should be a piece of cake considering the size of the state. (Reminder: Philadelphia has a CDO, and its 1.5 million people far outnumber the 936,000 in the entire state of Delaware.) Right now, Chief Information Officer James Collins’ office is tasked with managing state data. Colorado became the first state to appoint a CDO back in 2010. There are now at least 14 states with CDOs. “We should join those progressive states that see the value of data as part of our state’s future in the global community,” said Callahan. “By having a Chief Data Officer, we’ll be sending a message and catapulting ourselves into a state that is forward thinking in technology and the new role data plays in our day-to-day lives.”
Companies: Department of Technology and Information

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