A government website that delivers aggregated data to the masses could have far-reaching implications for life in Connecticut by increasing transparency and community involvement.
Last week, the Connecticut Open Data Portal went live, less than two months after Gov. Dannel Malloy called for its creation on Feb. 20 with Executive Order 39. The new site compiles raw government data into one location on topics ranging from state commerce to town crime levels. General users can now use an interactive map to find farmer’s markets, while entrepreneurs can search for information about business grants to help build their start-ups.
“We launched this website as part of our goal to make the data collected by state government more open and easily accessible to its owners — the taxpayers of Connecticut,” Malloy said in a statement. “Data.ct.gov will make vast amounts of data — data that was previously hard to find — easily accessible.” The portal’s home page lists eight categories — including education, housing, health and public safety — for which data are available on the state level. Users can access raw data, maps and charts for their own analysis. The portal’s Chief Data Officer and Connecticut Office of Policy and Management Representative Tyler Kleykamp first became involved in the project last fall, during preliminary research to find potential platforms for the website. The state of Connecticut chose Socrata, Inc., a software company, to design the platform. “We decided on Socrata, because they offered a product that had been tested and deployed successfully in other states,” Kleykamp said. He added that Socrata also built the foundation for the federal government’s data platform, which means that those using ct.data.gov will also be able to access federal data.
Now that the site has been created, Kleykamp said the state government is working with various agencies to identify usable data. So far, approximately 25 agencies have contributed.
Kleykamp added that the site could help spur entrepreneurial opportunities for companies that rely on local government and property information — companies like SeeClickFix, a platform that allows residents to report problems like potholes or graffiti.
State Representative Toni Walker added that opening this pool of public data could trigger more start-ups, to thrive across the state.
“This is a small, business-friendly action that will pay huge dividends for companies looking to grow,” Walker said in a statement.
State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney also stressed that this could help state legislators making policy decisions.
DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham ’04 believes that a new website on its own will not demonstrate a commitment to greater transparency since Connecticut already posts a “mind-boggling amount” of state data on the ct.gov website. However, he did say that if the platform encourages more people to research data and causes agencies to release highest-value data sets, then it would also help build a more effective government.
He added that this portal could help legislators make data-driven decisions if the data is broken down by state legislative district.
“This gets to the need for neighborhood-level data, aggregated over longer time periods if necessary to ensure accuracy and privacy,” Abraham said. “Because government tends to publish its data based on citizen need, you often don’t see this level of data quality unless you attract a high level of use, which is something an open data portal can help with.”
Abraham added that one challenge the site faces is that administrative data sets are attempts to measure complex social conditions, which tend to change over time.
City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that there has been demand for this information from both activists and other citizens. He predicts that people will use the public budget information since New Haven recently launched a website with city budget information that has garnered positive discussion.
“Managing public money is among the most sacred responsibilities a government has, so to make information about that spending available helps people understand where their money goes and why [governments] need revenue,” Grotheer said.
Homicide Watch, another site that aggregates city data for public use, profiles every homicide that takes place in the Washington, D.C. area. Founder and editor Laura Amico cited similar reasons as Connecticut for deciding to launch the site: community information and engagement.
“The data provide[s] a foundation for asking good questions,” Amico said. “Those questions help people understand and tell narratives. A lot of times, I find that the community asks better questions of the data than I do because they have different insight.”
Kleykamp said the site will publish some information about crime rates, but that crime tends to be more relevant at the local level. Executive Order 39 only applies to agencies that report directly to the governor.