Open data use doubles, ‘Citizen Dashboard’ pickup slow
Use of the City of Edmonton’s “open data” website exploded in 2013, doubling to more than 1.6 million page views from the year prior.
But the city’s attempt to simplify all of that data into meaningful performance targets the public can easily check hasn’t done so well: Edmonton’s ‘Citizen Dashboard’ isn’t getting much traffic.
Though spokesman Alex Macdonald said tracking analytics were only available for the dashboard beginning in mid-December 2013 – thirteen months after its November 2012 launch – they show that during the last two weeks of the year, 196 people visited the page, suggesting a monthly count of about 400 visitors.
The dashboard page is designed to show how well the city is doing at meeting or lowering statistical targets like neighborhoods cleared of snow, transit security incidents and potholes filled.
The city is optimistic more people will discover it as time goes on, said Macdonald. But the dashboard’s slow pickup isn’t dimming enthusiasm over the massive upswing in people seeking out the open data pages.
There are 415 data sets at the site, including everything from location maps of city swimming pools, to traffic injury rates, to buckets of sand collected from community leagues for de-icing people’s driveways and sidewalks. When the open-data project launched in 2010, there were just a dozen.
In 2012, there were 848,142 visits to data.edmonton.ca; that jumped to 1.63 million in 2013.
“I get a sense, a gut feeling that people here are really, really proud of what they’re doing with open data and that there are some really interesting things that are going to happen because of this,” said Macdonald.
An early test of that usefulness could come next month when the city hosts an International Open-Data Day Hackathon on Feb. 22 at The Stanley Milner Library’s Makerspace, a new media creation suite open to the public that features everything from computers for coding or creating, to CD and DVD burners, to two 3D printers, music mixing software, and a handful of game machines. The idea will be to take some of the most inquisitive local programmers, put them together for a day with the city’s open data and see what applications they can develop.
“I’d like to be able to walk through an area in the city with an app and, just by filtering datasets, have it spit out all of this disparate info about the neighborhood as I walk through it,” Macdonald said. “There are so many possibilities.”
Among the most popular data items sought out last year by Edmontonians were city ward boundaries, a map of city street construction locations, election poll results and, in true Edmonton fashion, data from the city’s mosquito traps.
“It’s a part of democracy,” said the city’s strategic IT coordinator, Janelle Robb. “Open data is about empowering citizens, by giving them access to data to help them gain insights into how the city operates. It really does give the public a chance to see what we’re doing, and to hold us to account. “