The future of collaborative open data in Madison


Note: This guest post was contributed by Kara Kratowicz, the Data Projects Coordinator of the City of Madison, WI

As an early adopter of open data, the City of Madison recognized a set of challenges that are not uncommon to cities today: how do we gain traction within city agencies to identify data assets, publicly share those data assets, and increase utilization of the open data portal?

Our engagement with the Sunlight Foundation through the What Works Cities initiative offered a prime opportunity to address these challenges. By engaging as a pilot city of the Tactical Data Engagement (TDE) method, we came with a vision to reenergize our open data program by promoting publication of data assets and fostering utilization of publicly available data in the community.

Madison’s Tactical Data Engagement Work

From September 2017 – June 2018, the city’s Data Management Team implemented the four step TDE method. Highlights from the complete case study of our journey to making our government more accountable and transparent include:

  • We found the focus area of complete neighborhoods for TDE based on a community survey that was informed by an existing public channel: our comprehensive plan update, Imagine Madison.
  • A two week sprint of open data user research included 36 community interviews to refine our use cases to address six user personas and their journeys to access city data.
  • We designed a plan to implement a Data Toolkit to be utilized in the Community Development Division’s request for proposal (RFP) for the 2018-2019 Safe and Thriving Communities grant.
  • Implementation of the Data Toolkit included a video explaining its use in the grant, which asked applicants to use the Toolkit to speak to data informed trends in the RFP’s written narrative.

In addition to promoting the Toolkit to respondents of the RFP, the city featured the Data Toolkit on the open data portal along with an evaluation survey. Grant applicants and participants in the community forums were asked to complete the evaluation survey to help the city learn from the pilot and determine potential for future iterations of this work.

TDE Evaluation Findings

There were nine applicants to the second round of the Safe and Thriving Communities request for proposal which included the use of the Data Toolkit. Anecdotally, the Community Development Division observed the quality of applications increase between the first and second rounds, with the implementation of the Data Toolkit as the notable difference in application process. In the end, five applicants were funded in the second round of this application process.

Twenty-two individuals responded to the evaluation survey regarding the Data Toolkit. Half of survey respondents indicated they were applicants that used the Data Toolkit, while the other half had heard about the Data Toolkit in another forum. Of the grant applicants completing the evaluation survey, fifty percent of the agencies’ budgets fell between $0 and $300,000 suggesting they were smaller agencies that may not have dedicated staff to write grants. The size of the agency is important for the City to understand whether asking grant applicants to use the Data Toolkit disproportionately burdened certain agencies in the process.

We also held Data Toolkit Trainings for the grant applicants, which were attended by just over half of the grant applicants responding to the evaluation survey. All of the training participants responding to the survey found the training valuable or partially valuable. All of the grant applicants who responded to the evaluation survey either partially or completely understood how to use the toolkit; ninety percent of the survey respondents who applied for the grant found it partially to extremely useful.

In the open-ended feedback of the evaluation survey we heard interest to see the Data Toolkit grow and stay up to date. Additionally, several commenters suggested additional datasets to include in future iterations of this work, allowing us the opportunity to encourage more city agencies to release datasets. One respondent recommended using the Data Toolkit to serve as a model at the county level while coordinating with partner organizations in the community that also collect relevant data, such as the United Way. Others would like to see the Data Toolkit marketed to neighborhood associations and others that could benefit from a data-driven approach to their work.

Excerpt from the TDE evaluation survey. Please note that respondents to this survey who did not use the Data Toolkit in the grant application were not presented this question and were skipped.


User feedback for collaborative open data work

The City of Madison plans to replicate the Data Toolkit in future Community Development Division funding cycles. Feedback from the community, as well as our own observations throughout the process, will inform future iterations of the Data Toolkit. Some notable features include:

  • Expanding upon the datasets included in the first Toolkit;
  • Continuing to provide comprehensive trainings and ensuring all interested applicants have the tools they need to participate;
  • Including contact information of a point person with each dataset in the Toolkit, to address applicant questions and any confusion interpreting the data.
  • Revisiting the user personas and user research formed in the TDE process, with the hopes of identifying opportunities to meet the needs of additional data users.

TDE was the beginning of a journey to motivate city staff to publish more publicly available data and to encourage the community to put that data to use. Through our journey, we recognized the value it serves as a foundation to addressing some key challenges and making our open data program more impactful for the community. It’s a method we hope other cities will undertake to address their data challenges, and to ensure an accountable and transparent government.