Looking for open data use cases in Madison, Wisconsin


Community members in Madison, Wisconsin want to make their neighborhoods more livable. Rather than having to drive long distances to get what they need each day, residents want the city to foster development of neighborhoods where housing, grocery stores, schools, and other daily needs are both accessible and convenient for all.

That interest takes place at an opportune moment, when Madison’s city government is relaunching its existing open data program with an explicit focus on connecting to the needs of residents. After adopting an open data ordinance in 2012 and building an open data platform, Madison is now focusing on empowering its residents and make a social impact.

More open data from city hall could help Madison and members of its community to advance city-wide goals, such as a desire for more “complete” neighborhoods, but how, where, when and for whom?

To help the city answer those questions, Sunlight’s Open Cities team will be in Madison over the next two weeks. Madison will be home to the first-ever pilot of Tactical Data Engagement (TDE), our four-step approach to help cities actively facilitate the use of open data to improve communities. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the experts and organizations who are working on comprehensive neighborhood issues, gather ideas for how open data might support their work, and share our findings with you.

Madison’s decision to focus on complete neighborhoods came after several months of community listening. Over the course of the early fall, city staff worked through the first step of the TDE process — “Find a focus area by observing the community” — by listening to existing forums where residents were already voicing their concerns, including the city’s Imagine Madison comprehensive plan update. They also conducted a public survey to confirm what they heard in those existing forums. Complete neighborhoods emerged as a clear potential focus.

From left: Stephen Larrick, director of Sunlight’s Open Cities team; Asch Harwood of Reboot; and Madison city staff kick off two weeks of research as part of the first pilot of Tactical Data Engagement.

Starting today, we’ll be in Madison to help the city move through Step 2 of this work — “Refine use cases by interviewing stakeholders.” Our goal is understand who is working on complete neighborhood issues in Madison, their goals and challenges, and how open data might be able to help.

To help us with this work, we’ve called in our colleagues at Reboot, a social impact firm dedicated to inclusive development and accountable governance. Reboot is a national leader on creating data “user personas” for social impact. We loved their work helping New York City better understand its open data users. We are incredibly excited to be working alongside them and learning together as we go.

At the end of our two weeks, we expect to have a much more comprehensive understanding of the Madison-area experts and organizations who are working on comprehensive neighborhood issues, and ideas for how open data might support their work. We’ll figure out whose work we could best support and, once we do, the next step will be to design a plan for connecting the two.

We are excited to be putting our TDE process into action for the very first time in Madison. Over the next two weeks we’ll be listening and learning a lot — both about the issues facing Madison’s communities as well as how this idea can help cities anywhere.

To that end, if you live or work in Madison and have ideas about these issues, please tell us! Email opencities@sunlightfoundation.com and share your perspectives about how the city could improve how it collects, releases, uses or applies government data. We’d love to say hello while we’re in town.