Friday, November 09, 2012

Lexington KY Publishes Open Data

Lexington KY is the newest city in the world to create an open data portal for its citizens.  Their mission is to promote the openness, transparency and accountability of local government by providing high-value government data in standards compliant, machine readable format. This will serve as the basis for the creation of useful civic applications by third party developers.

From their website:
"For the initial launch, Lexington is providing free access to its geographic information. Over 80 geographic data layers from the city’s enterprise GIS are available and will be updated on a quarterly basis. Links to existing applications promoting the transparency of the legislative process as well as crime data are accessible from the “applications menu”. 
In the coming months we will continue to expand our data catalog and offerings to build on the foundation we have established."
There are 85 datasets in either GIS Shapefile or KML format, great for overlaying on maps on and using offline for analysis.  I talked to Chad Cottle, Director of Enterprise IT Solutions and the chair of Open Data Lexington, via email to get some history.

About a year ago, the local grassroots community (Open Lexington) approached the city asking them to open up their data, etc....the Council passed a resolution placing the city (for the first time) in a position to actually open up data without going the FOIA route.  
So, we brought together our city IT team, the community hacktivisits, the University of Kentucky and other “community movers and shakers” to start collaborating on what kind of stuff that citizens or “geeks” would want.  Working through some user stories we concluded that there were basically 2 audiences.
The first being mom and dad at home who are interested in data viz, infographics, canned answers (like pre-defined queries), etc.  This is also the more app-focused audience.  For example, to use Louistat as a frame of reference, “how much police and fire overtime was there in 2011”?  We will also develop apps to engage the citizen and inform them (think open311, etc.).  On our site we link to two apps/websites that are more “easy access” focused:  Legistar and RAIDS online. 
Audience two are the geeks, hardcore analysts, etc. who want raw, non-manufactured, non-derivative data.  We decided to start with GIS because most of the apps that could be built were location-based or location-aware.  In essence, this becomes the canvas on which the artist will paint. 
The open data portal if for audience #2, the entrepreneurs and data geeks, who can use this raw data to build great things.  The site was built using the open source CKAN toolkit, and implemented by local Lexington entrepreneur Nick Such.   The city paid for it to implemented and hosted in the cloud, so it was very inexpensive, though I imagine it took a lot of time internally to gather all the data and get full buy in, which is always a challenge.

Chad says this is Phase 1.  The next phase starts right  now and will be things like code violations, building inspection data, and 311 calls for service.  Hopefully data visualizations focused around the flow of money in the city will come next too.

Congratulations to Lexington, which now joins Louisville in the open data realm.  My next post will focus on the similarities and differences on both city's sites, services, formats, and open data, in the hope of fostering some friendly competition.  Viva open data!

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