Working to Close the Feedback Loop on Open Data and Civic Innovation

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A feedback loop is an important information path for most organizations, the City of Houston included. Following this year’s City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon, we realized we still have some work to do on closing the feedback loop for Civic Innovation and Open Data.

The City of Houston and our community partner, Open Houston, have been working together for a year and a half to provide the community with open data. You can find all of this useful data at our interim open data portal. When we first set up the portal, it was a "fly by the seat of your pants" experience: let’s put the data out there that are easy to publish or are already available. In the time since the initial push, we've made a few more datasets available, but proactively soliciting feedback has really been limited to interactions at Hackathons and a few community e-mails here and there.

Feedback button screenshot
Realizing we can do more, we’re working to close the feedback loop and provide members of the community more avenues to reach out. How are we doing this?

  • In the first week of August, we put Google Analytics on the interim open data portal to get an idea of pages being visited. What are the top 4 datasets for the past month or so? DON Code Enforcement Violations, City of Houston Demolition Permits, HFD Active Incidents, and – interestingly enough – Easements in Harris County.
  • How do we know if we're providing the datasets you want or if the datasets are even understandable? Well, we've added this nifty “Ideas and Feedback” button for folks to request datasets and submit their questions or feedback on existing data.
  • Open Houston has started hosting monthly Civic Hack Nights. This is a great opportunity for members of the community to share their ideas on what makes a good data set. You can learn more about the Civic Hack Nights at http://www.meetup.com/Open-Houston/
  • In the coming weeks and months, you’ll be hearing more about the City of Houston’s Open Data Policy. This policy is going to provide a framework for us to work internally and externally to identify, release, and update datasets going forward. Part of this strategy includes community engagement and feedback.

The City’s Open Data and Civic Innovation program is still in its infancy, but we're incrementally working to improve and engage open data consumers. Let us know your thoughts on our efforts or ping us on what datasets you want to see. Head on over to the interim open data portal and click on the Ideas and Feedback button to share your thoughts.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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