This week, the city of Salinas joined other cities across the U.S. that have created open data portals. Such portals are web tools that let anyone have a closer look at data that have been collected by different city agencies. Cities like Salinas provide data in the interest of being more transparent with their residents, but the practice could also help local governments function a little better.
You might think that all the data a city collects are stored in a master computer, easily accessible and searchable. But more often than not, data can be strewn all over city computers or even hidden, not necessarily on purpose.
“We want to break down barriers to information, not only for residents but also internally,” Eric Sandoval said. He’s the City of Salinas’ Geographic Information Systems administrator. “What I don’t think a lot of people understand is that larger organizations have a tendency to ‘silo’ individual departments or divisions. And that can make it more difficult when you have complex problems or large problems that require collaboration across these divides."
Say an employee in one city department, like housing, is compiling a project and needs to know more about local roadways. Instead of having to track down the right employee who holds that information - this kind of portal allows anyone to search a whole multitude of data sets to find answers to questions.
“It actually speeds up the process for solving some of these complex problems,” Sandoval said. “It makes people informed about other things that are going on in the city.”
Journalists also love open data portals because it allows them to study city data and find new types of questions to ask. Data scientists can create all kinds of visuals with open data, like the New York software engineer who mapped and charted the city’s most rodent-infested restaurants. And there are all sorts of uses for residents and families, as well.
“Since we’re going back to school, citizens or residents will have access to our 'Safe Routes to School,'" Sandoval said. “Looking at dangerous intersections and planning routes where their child is walking to school they’ll have a better idea of where some appropriate routes are.”
If you are interested in learning more about the government data Salinas has collected, just head to CityofSalinas.org/data. They’ve split up the data sets into the categories of Economic Development, Safety, Planning and Community Development, Transportation and Infrastructure, Quality of Life, and High-Performing Government.