Grant Helps ‘Open Raleigh’ Make Data Available to Residents

The platform received a grant to expand Raleigh, N.C.'s free data portal, getting the data out and into the hands of residents.

by Mechelle Hankerson, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) / February 4, 2016

(TNS) -- With the help of a $35,000 grant, city staff members are working on a way to make budgets, property information and other data easier for residents to find and understand.

Raleigh’s information technology department received a grant in January from the Knight Prototype Fund, part of the Knight Foundation, which supports journalism, arts and community initiatives.

The new program will help push information from Open Raleigh, the city’s free data portal, into the hands of residents, said Jim Alberque, who will oversee the creation of the new tool.

Currently, Open Raleigh is organized into spreadsheets and links, and most of the data still require interpretation. Alberque and his team want to transform valuable information into charts, graphs and other visuals that will be one of the first items users see when they search for a topic on raleighnc.gov.

It will be similar to using Google or other search engines to find information about a sports team and seeing results that include scores, Alberque said.

Alberque and his staff will first work on popular searches on the city’s website, including parks, utility bills and the city budget. Part of the grant will pay for additional research, which will determine what information would make the most helpful visual result.

“Data is one of municipal government’s most valuable assets,” Alberque said. “And we have this innovative community outside of government. We see value for them to have the data to do their own work.”

The city’s strategic plan outlines goals that will guide city initiatives and policy, and it includes a goal to provide documents and information to residents in the simplest way possible. Developing a tool so residents don’t have to look as hard for it will help with that goal, said Darnell Smith, the city’s chief information officer.

Former CIO Gail Roper created Open Raleigh, and Smith said he wants to continue the tradition of providing information to residents.

Smith spent his career in the private sector, where data is used to drive revenue. In a municipal environment, it’s important to keep open data focused on residents so they can see their tax money in action and understand how their government works, Smith said.

“That’s the sweet spot for open data,” he said.

©2016 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.