The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
June 13, 2014

Using data to shape policy

June 13, 2014

From its inception in 1996, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) has been opening up government data to promote more informed and inclusive decisionmaking. In recent years, NNIP partners have made great strides in working with new allies in the open data movement, which is centered on the idea that governments should publish nonconfidential data at no cost and without restrictions.

There’s a growing movement of people calling for more open data that are relevant to public concerns and social issues. Each year, hundreds of people gather at the Sunlight Foundation’s TransparencyCamp, an event where participants exchange ideas about how to use new strategies and technologies to promote open government policies and practice, including the public release of data.

TransparencyCamp is an "unconference," meaning that participants set the agenda for the entire event. There are no pre-constructed presentations or panels; instead, the conference comes together organically. The event provides an amazing opportunity to hear the perspectives of diverse participants –advocates, civic developers, local and national data practitioners, and staff from all levels of government. Greater transparency is not the end goal; instead, participants strive to develop strategies to increase government accountability and effectiveness, spur new private uses of data (such as bus tracker apps), and engage citizens in setting public priorities.

NNIP partners from Oakland, CA; Providence, RI; Detroit, MI; and from NNIP headquarters in Washington, DC attended this year’s TransparencyCamp to share their experience with transforming local data to reveal new insights about neighborhoods. The NNIP network offers a great platform for understanding what it takes to encourage local governments to open up their data in different political and economic contexts.

NNIP’s Oakland partner participated in a session on local government data led by Philadelphia’s chief data officer, emphasizing the importance of transit data, crime data, and city spending data in the city planning process.

Members of NNIP’s Washington partner, NeighborhoodInfo DC, attended a session on voter registration data to learn more about data sources for measuring civic engagement. They discovered that the difficulty election officials face in removing out-of-date voting records without eliminating eligible voters is one reason solid voter registration data is not readily available.

The lessons from TransparencyCamp will help NNIP partners in their work to expand the benefits of open data to low-income neighborhoods, and we’re already looking forward to attending future “unconferences.” To learn more about TransparencyCamp 2014, visit the Sunlight Foundation or check out the #TCamp2014 feed.

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