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Buffalo, N.Y., Offers Free Citizen Training for Open Data Portal

A four-week course starting in late November will give city residents the skills and tools they need to make the most out of Buffalo’s 40-plus open data assets.

Residents of Buffalo, N.Y., will have an opportunity to learn about the city’s open data portal and how to use it starting this November.

Buffalo is offering a free four-week course called Data 101, during which participants learn what open data is, the history of the open data movement, how Buffalo fits into this trend, the functionalities of its open data portal, and how they can interact with the data in a way that gives them new insights into their community. The course is currently accepting applications, and its set to begin on Tuesday, Nov. 27, continuing each Tuesday for four weeks after that.

Kirk McLean, director of Open Data Buffalo and special assistant to the deputy mayor for the city, pointed out that offering an open data course is relatively rare for city governments, the majority of which are focused more on conducting internal training.

Buffalo residents seem to realize they have a unique opportunity. Applications for Data 101 have only been open a short while, but McLean said there are already nearly 20 applicants, which is how many officials were hoping would ultimately attend the class.

To promote the course, the city held a press conference, ran updates on social media channels, posted course details on a local civic tech group’s Facebook page, sent out email blasts, ran promotions at City Hall and distributed paper-based applications to the public in community centers and through community liaisons.

Currently, Buffalo has released 16 major data sets as well as between 25 and 30 geospatial assets. Its data portal, powered by Socrata, also allows users to access the open data sets made available through the state of New York that residents can interact with using the full complement of the Buffalo portal’s visualization tools.

With roughly four weeks left until the course is set to begin, the city is still taking applications. It’s also working to fine-tune the curriculum by encouraging interested members of the community and would-be participants to let officials know what they would like to learn. 

McLean will be teaching some parts of the curriculum along with others who work with the city on open data. He hopes this is the first of many courses on the topic that will be offered to the community.

“There’s a potential to iterate on our inaugural programming and spin off successive programming thereafter, improving on it,” McLean said. “We’re hoping to give a lot of surveys to our class about what can be improved, what was effective, what wasn’t effective, and then fine-tune the program for the second, third, fourth classes.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine