Fostering open data – what community news can do

How can community news and info publishers help improve access to local data? asks Mark Headd, chief data officer for the City of Philadelphia, in a Knight Digital Media Centre blogpost.

According to Headd, when you ask for data, explain why you want the data, how you hope to help the community with it. According to Headd: “When people tell us, ‘I need this data because it makes it easier for me to find a parking space,’ or ‘It will help me to decide what school to send my child to,’ it helps us figure out how and why we should do this work.”

This points to the value of doing some non-confrontational coverage. Data can certainly be used to uncover government malfeasance, neglect, or other problems, so it might not help to lay those particular cards on the table up front. But you don’t have to start there.

Mostly local data can simply be useful — it can help people understand community issues and make better decisions. If your city currently isn’t as open with data as you’d like, crafting some data-supported reporting projects that are both useful to the community and where local government looks good for supplying the data might help grease the wheels for more challenging data disclosures.

Headd also recommends putting city data that’s already available to good use. “Use it to make something. You don’t have to build an app — you can load a dataset into a Google spreadsheet and build a chart or other data visualizations. If the format of the data isn’t accessible to you, tell your local government.”

This points to the need for community journalists and news/info publishers to be data literate, and also to develop some basic data journalism skills.


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.