March 21, 2012 By Jim Shilander
Illinois, Cook County and the city of Chicago announced on Wednesday, March 21, a unique project combining available public data from all three entities into a single website.
MetroChicagoData.org, is the first website of its kind in the country, the participating governments say. They're calling it a "convergence cloud." The site’s major goals are to help improve service efficiency and data access, and to serve as a platform for innovation.
This Chicagoland website appears to be promising what public-sector technologists long have said could be possible — a truly regional clearinghouse for public data.
"We are collaborating with our partners, the city of Chicago and Cook County, to not only break down the barriers between us and increase government transparency, but also to apply the lessons learned in the world of information technology to create new opportunities for entrepreneurship, foster creativity and create jobs,” said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
During its initial rollout, the site is featuring a map of Chicago-area health facilities down to the street level. The map stitches together data provided by the state, city and county. Health centers operated by all three entities, as well as private practices and other providers, are data points plotted on the map.
One can envision other data sets someday being layered onto the same map, such as information on bus fares to and from a hospital.
The site also has different options for reviewing information, including data sets, charts, documents, maps and calendars. It allows users to organize data by category: transportation, public safety and transportation. There also is a directory of government buildings within Chicago and a data package that includes permits, tax and regulation information, and investment incentives for businesses.
MetroChicagoData.org discloses which entity is providing the information, including links to the individual data sites of Illinois, Cook County and Chicago.
There is a great deal of information already posted on the site, from budget charts to 2011 crime data, Freedom of Information Act requests and lottery sales information. All can be found with minimal effort simply by looking at different view types. By choosing to organize by category, the user can further narrow his or her search and can access specific view types, such as charts or datasets, by category.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle noted that the site’s added transparency should be a boon to those looking for more information on what each level of government is doing.
“Transparency enables accountability and strengthens public trust,” said Preckwinkle. “MetroChicagoData.org is another step in providing tools to help the public measure outcomes, find services, and see the impact of policies across all three levels of government.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he hoped constituents would be the ultimate beneficiaries of the collaboration.
“This unprecedented initiative will foster innovation, economic development and more efficient delivery of services," Emanuel noted. “When we break down bureaucracies and our governments work together, we open new doors for our constituents."
This tri-party initiative was the result of a cooperative effort between the technology staffs of the three entities and Socrata, a Seattle-based cloud data company that had been working with both the city and county on their own individual cloud data projects.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.