Use our new tools to learn about community data needs


If you’re a Chief Data Officer or city open data champion, new open data projects are a big commitment and it can be difficult to predict open data’s impact in your community. But putting in leg work to understand community needs before launching an open data project can help you design for your stakeholders’ specific needs and use cases for open data. That’s why Sunlight’s Open Cities team has developed these interactive tools for local government staff or data providers looking to ground-truth their open data projects in community needs. 

Last year, we launched our guide to Tactical Data Engagement, and began piloting approaches for local governments to facilitate community use of open data based on user-centered design and research. Now, we’re releasing a list of engagement methods for beginning to understand community needs and a self-assessment quiz for you to check whether you know enough about your community to launch an open data project. 

In our work with cities, some questions have emerged. Most often, city staff want to know: “How can I get started learning about opportunities for open data?” and then, “When do I know enough about a focus area to launch my project?” Our two resources will help answer these questions. They’ll help you find (and make sure you have found):

  • Who in the community could use improved access to information
  • What types of data or information you have available that might be shared
  • Why people should care about this project — i.e. what an important issue area is

If you’re just getting started with user-centered practice at your city, or if you’ve only done a little bit of community outreach around open data in the past, our list of engagement methods will help you kick off or focus your outreach. 

Print a copy of this worksheet at and fill it out! 

If you’ve already done some of the methods on our worksheet, you can take our self-assessment to see if you have learned enough to launch your open data project around a clear focus area.

Choosing a focus area is an important first step in narrowing in on community needs and avoiding community engagement that is too broad and not actionable. Once you finish the self-assessment, you’ll receive an email recapping the “Who, what, and why” of your open data opportunity — and if you’re following along in our Tactical Data Engagement framework, you’ll be able to move on to refining specific use cases for your community’s use of open data. 

Take the quiz at

Just like all of our resources related to Tactical Data Engagement, we will continue to improve these over time based on how things are working, so we welcome your feedback! If you’re using these resources, we’d also encourage you to share your stories to be featured on our blog. Feel free to email us at

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