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New Washington, D.C., Tool Uses Generative AI to Make Data Accessible

DC Compass, a new GenAI-based tool launched by the district in partnership with Esri, offers users answers to data-related questions. It is now available in a public beta version to improve its speed and accuracy.

Person holds two digital icons: one is a bar chart and the other is a human brain image to represent AI. Data points float in the background.
DC Compass, a new tool from Washington, D.C., leverages generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) to make data insights more widely obtainable in a low-risk situation.

Its public beta version officially launched March 19 and can be tested at; the goal is to gain feedback that will improve its speed and accuracy.

DC Compass was created in partnership with Esri, a GIS technology company whose ArcGIS Online platform powers the tool. This iteration follows a six-month private beta version that enabled data system analysts to test the tool prior to putting it into the public’s hands, Interim Chief Technology Officer Stephen Miller said recently.

With the rise of generative AI, he said, the district wanted to implement something that leveraged it without creating any additional risks related to equity or misinformation. Using the district’s existing data for such a tool enabled just such a low-risk use case.

Screenshot of DC Compass AI Assistant in its beta form. The chat reads, "Can you give me a map of the trees in DC?"; in response, the tool offers a map of the dataset titled DC Estimated trees.
Screenshot of DC Compass AI Assistant in its beta form, courtesy of DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

The DC Compass project, Miller said, helped inform Mayor Muriel Bowser’s AI values, as it gave district officials an opportunity to see how AI tools might function and what value they can bring to D.C. government and the people it serves.

“We saw this as a historic opportunity to create something that would make data more accessible to the public,” Miller said in an interview.

Through the DC Compass tool, users can ask questions about data and even create a dashboard on-demand, enabling individuals who are not data experts, or teams that do not have someone serving in that role, to understand and use public data. Users can even ask wide-ranging questions about district data, ranging from how many trees are in the district to information on district contracts, Miller said.

And while previously other agencies would have relied on the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer team to gather data insights if they did not have a data expert on their team, agencies can now ask questions about what data is available and gather insight on their own. The tool will even allow users to create data visualizations.

“This is opening up opportunities for anyone in the district government workforce to go in and analyze these data sets,” Miller said. The tool could potentially impact various functional areas of government, ranging from operations in transportation and public works to procurement. Long term, he said he hopes to see it make a difference in disaster response.

The district used 2,000 data sets to inform the tool, Miller said. And as D.C. adds or updates its data, the tool will automatically provide updated responses, Andrew Turner, CTO of ArcGIS Hub and director of Esri Research and Development in Washington D.C., said via email.

Turner also noted that governments and departments within a government can configure and launch their own versions of this tool to meet their specific needs: “For example, D.C. is already testing a few additional configurations for specific departments for both public visitors and internal staff to answer constituent questions.”

This is just the latest foray into AI for Washington, D.C. The city launched an AI-powered career platform in December that folds AI into the hiring process, in an effort to reduce bias. In February, Mayor Bowser announced several steps to advance government adoption of AI.

Working with Esri on the tool, Miller said, is the latest collaboration in a long working relationship between the district and the company; on the D.C. side, it builds on open data work that is more than a decade in the making. He credited his predecessors’ years of work in open data for laying the foundation for the tool: “I'm glad that they took the steps to create what we have with our open data today, which will be DC Compass.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.