What do people really want from your data?
These days, data -- data visualization, data journalism, and data-driven civic apps -- are the new black. There are hackathons, national data challenges, grant programs, and groups putting coders to work on behalf of cities.
There's also more publicly available data than ever before -- the data.gov repository of public data from the federal government has 378,000 data sets. The World Bank has more. Cities from Ann Arbor, Mich. to Paris are setting up public, online repositories of data about civic life from spending to law enforcement to education.
But what does the average citizen actually want out of all that data? What's going to help them have a better life, or be a better citizen?
Jason Rose at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund got an in-depth look at this question as he developed SchoolFactsJax, a website that attempts to make the data on Duval County's public schools accessible to everybody with a web browser.
When I asked him what he'd recommend to organizations with similar aims, he said: "The first thing I would say is to take the time up front to really understand the data and what it is your audience needs or wants to know from it. One of the unique issues of working with education data is that there is typically more performance information available than anyone knows what to do with."
Rose and the team at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund decreased their knowledge gap by spending a lot of time with stakeholders directly: "Over the year or so we spent working to launch the first phase of School Facts Jax, the majority of it was spent gathering input from different audiences and partners on what questions people most wanted to be able to answer about our local schools, what the best data points would be to answer those questions, and what was the best way to present that information to make it both accessible and meaningful to our audiences."