On Thursday, November 21st the Montgomery County Innovation Program hosted the first Open Data Town Hall at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. The event was organized by the Innovation Program in collaboration with the Department of Technology Services and with the help of many County departments. We are pleased to say that the results are positive and representation from Montgomery County residents like you was impressive. Live-tweeting with the hashtag #opendataMC proved effective as well, and we heard from people all over the county with all different sorts of feedback. This was the first Open Data Town Hall event both in Montgomery County and possibly the first of its kind in the country, demonstrating our commitment to open data.
Dan Hoffman, the Chief Innovation Officer, opened the event by welcoming attendees and first talking about the Innovation Program and what we have accomplished, including projects and a brief website tour. He said that the Innovation Program explored projects that are “testable, experimental, and risky,” reminding us that it is a place to explore new ideas and a safe place to fail. Then he explored what exactly open data is and how it can positively impact Montgomery County. Hoffman said that having an open data policy is the only way to ensure “an open, responsive, and transparent government.”
Sonny Segal, the Chief Information Officer, then took the floor to state how this is the first year anniversary of the Open Data program, and it has already shown great success. It is designed so sectors other than the government can utilize the data, and contribute to the county where the government’s services leave off. He reminded us that the input of residents is vital because then portals such as dataMontgomery would be tailored to what the public wants to see and know about. This way, datasets can be prioritized and the implementation plan can be strategic.
“Montgomery County is one of just 24 U.S. local governments with an open data policy,” said Rebecca Williams, a policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. “By engaging with residents and the public while implementing an open data policy, Montgomery County is exceeding the work being done by peers in Chicago and New York City in setting a prioritization schedule for the release of all the datasets maintained by the county.” With portals such as dataMontgomery, Montgomery County is ahead of the game.
After the introductions, Dan Hoffman introduced the activity. Stations were set up around the room with a speaker and a large pad of paper with a different topic written on it. Residents were to move around the room for the next 45 minutes from station to station and discuss each topic and give ideas of datasets they would like to see pertaining to that topic. Meanwhile, interviews with citizens were conducted to get a more personalized view of their Open Data opinions and what they would like to see. Here is breakdown of the different groups and the ideas residents had:
- County building energy efficiency
- Recycling rates in buildings
- Tree canopy law information
- Locations of resources
- Invasive Plant Map
- Green space data
- Traffic flow information
- Bus stop locations
- Real-time service alerts
- Toll road information
- Graphic data/maps
- Crime incidents
- Dangerous intersections (collision information)
- Response times for Police and Fire Departments
- County facilities located on maps
- Services offered at facilities
- Languages offered at facilities
- Rates, transportation, hours at facilities
- Mental health facilities mapped
- Open checkbook: spending, budget, project bids
- Where the spending is goes and to whom it goes
- Council vote tracking
- Record requests (MPIA, FOIA)
- School boundaries
- Election data
- Machine-readable format for SAT scores, including private schools
Looking towards the future, dataMontgomery is already seeing new requests for datasets the public would like to see. You can contribute there as well. We are already beginning to respond to the requests made by adding new datasets, so it is important that you know your advice will not go unheard. One example stemming directly from the Town Hall are election maps, which the County has begun posting already. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a success, and we are already planning our second Open Data Town Hall for late January in upcounty.