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Regional Portal Offers Data Feast

Let the feast begin!

Wait, where’s the turkey? The stuffing? The green bean casserole? That weird stuff covered in marshmallows? Sorry – not that kind of meal.

Central Indiana is about to enjoy a different kind of banquet – a feast of data, if you will. Forget the turkey. This Thanksgiving we’re set to chow down on a bounty of mouth-watering data sets and fresh from the oven charts and graphs. Confused? Let me explain.

This past Monday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Zionsville Mayor Jeff Papa and Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers established a regional data sharing initiative that connects their respective cities to a newly created open data portal – data.indy.gov. Like a true family pitch-in, agencies across multiple municipalities now have the ability to share information in near real time to a centralized location. And everyone’s invited (even that side of the family nobody really talks to any more). The new portal gives anyone with an internet connection access to unfiltered information direct from its source.

Why is this such a significant step forward? Prior to the existence of the new portal, these valuable data sets were scattered across multiple sites, hidden in hard to find databases, produced in varying formats that made comparison difficult, or available only through an arduous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request process. And if it was nearly impossible for members of the public to find the data, it wasn’t much easier for agency staffers. These same technological disparities coupled with the limited staff capacities of many departments conspired to keep most data from ever being meaningfully analyzed.

Why should you care? Creating a centralized repository for data opens a world of potential benefits to municipal agencies, local businesses, and the community as whole. For local government, the free flow of data allows agencies to direct resources more efficiently, save taxpayer dollars, and provide information to constituents in a 21st century manner. For businesses, the data creates a whole new path to potential products and solutions. For the community, the data provides an opportunity to engage a wide spectrum of interest groups to better understand, debate, and resolve issues.

Where does this initiative go from here? While the cities that participated in this week’s announcement are to be commended, the creation of the portal should only be seen as a first step. Putting a smattering of data sets online won’t magically solve problems. True progress must begin with a cultural shift within government that values data-driven decision making as fundamental for improving the quality of life for our community. Next, we must be diligent about adding new information. The challenges we face are not confined to a single county or agency. Therefore, the limited data currently housed within the portal must be expanded and additional cities and towns across the state brought into the fold.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the community must be invited to be an active participant in the process. Releasing data without significant community engagement just means we’ve prepared an enormous feast without inviting anyone over to enjoy it. There must be rigorous, ongoing community-wide dialogue about the quantity and quality of the information being provided and an open invitation on the part of local agencies to take the information and create something with it that benefits the entire community.

With municipal agencies, local businesses, and the community together at the table, the regional open data portal offers a path towards a true 21st century system of government that works for every Central Indiana resident.

Let’s dig in!

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Written by:
Matt Kirby
Captain, Open Indy Brigade
matt@openindybrigade.com