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Meet Casey, the User that Open Data Forgot

Casey works her tail off. Every month she works incredibly hard pulling together a bunch of data from multiple departments. She carefully checks and double checks the numbers. She then summarizes them into tables and a few charts. (She would love to be able to map them but just doesn’t know how). When she’s all done, she emails the table and charts to her supervisor to file the official report. Sometimes, they end up being blog-posted to the website where they can be downloaded. Next month, it starts all over.

Casey describes this process using a couple choice adjectives:

  • Labor-intensive
  • Repetitive
  • Frustrating
  • Annoying

Let’s imagine Casey in a world where open data addressed her endless reporting problem:

  1. Casey works with the open data program to publish her dataset and establish an update method (ideally automated).
  2. She uses her City’s friendly open data portal to easily configure charts, tables and maps for the dataset that meet all of her reporting requirements. In fact, it’s so easy that it’s just like using Excel PivotTables - a tool that 1) she uses all the time and 2) is actually capable of creating the reports she needs.
  3. Now anyone who visits the dataset on the portal can quickly see all the visuals she uses for reporting, which not only answer the most common questions about the dataset but serve as a gentle introduction to the data. Now users can dig into the full dataset at their now, better informed leisure.
  4. Plus, her department recently updated their website and Casey can easily port over the visuals into a web page with some additional narrative and analysis.

Now you might be thinking - golly, Casey, you can do this now! Technically and in the most narrow sense, you may be right. Open data portals do allow you to do this assuming:

  • You can master a fresh novel interface to generate the visuals
  • Your data is of a sufficiently simple structure to work in that interface
  • Your users can somehow find all the visuals you created scattered about

No portal has met this challenge. My advice to the open data movement: solve City reporting challenges with open data and watch the data floodgates open.

Names and specific circumstances have been altered to represent the stories of multiple, hard-working yet hamstrung public servants.