March 1, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Photo: Seattle CIO Bill Schrier
Following the open data trend popularized by San Francisco, New York City, the District of Columbia and other local governments, Seattle recently announced the deployment of Data.Seattle.gov, a Web site offering city data sets to citizen programmers who want to build citizen-facing applications. The data sets include information on crime statistics, alternative schools, public toilets, public art and numerous other metrics on Seattle life.
Seattle CIO Bill Schrier said he planned to implement a $25,000 contest called "Apps for Seattle" in June or July, with the prize money awarded for the best applications. He's holding off until then because he plans to post police and fire 911 data sets in the meantime. Schrier wants to see contestants use that data for their submissions. Schrier expects most winning applications to be hosted privately, like iPhone applications. This way, city IT workers don't need to maintain them. He said he might deploy a contestant's application that helps citizens submit feedback to the city.
For now, the site features datasets from My Neighborhood Map, a feature on the city's Web site, Seattle.gov. The plan is for Seattle departments to contribute data -- beginning with information commonly requested through the public disclosure process. Schrier figures that focusing on that data will mean that departments won't need to bother gathering it for future public disclosure requests. They could instead refer requesters to Data.Seattle.gov.
"If you're spending a lot of time getting people Freedom of Information Act information on employee salaries or building permits, those are the ones you ought to ship over first to Data.Seattle.Gov and then you'll free up all of that time," Schrier said.
The good news for Schrier's IT staff is Data.Seattle.gov doesn't add much workload. The city pays local vendor Socrata roughly $1,000 per month to convert and host the data on a site designed to mimic the look and feel of Seattle.gov.
"I'm looking forward to seeing people interpret and apply this data to improving our city services for their neighborhoods and businesses. I expect to see a more responsive and cost efficient city government as a result," said Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata in a statement.
City officials say the site will grow as departments build an inventory of data sets. The Web site seeks user comments and suggestions for information that should be added through a contact e-mail.
"The launch of this Web site represents the first step in an ongoing effort that we hope will make the work of city government more open and accessible to residents," said Mayor Mike McGinn in a news release. "In the course of our work, we gather a great deal of data on the state of the city and on our performance. We believe that information belongs to the people of Seattle."
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.