Best Practices in Open Data

The September 9th worksession on the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) Report 2013-7: Best Practices in Open Data Initiatives reminded Montgomery County that we already excel in the field of open data, from dataMontgomery to positions such as the Chief Innovation Officer. According to the report, Montgomery County continues to excel by providing the following:

  • Datasets that the community will find useful may not always be obvious to the government;
  • Preparing and maintaining datasets for release on open data portals can require a significant investment of resources – recommending a cost/benefit analysis to examine whether the community is interested in certain datasets; and
  • Some jurisdictions provide opportunities for stakeholder feedback to help identify datasets for release.

Having an open data policy requires sharing data in an open format where the public can view it without needing to request it from the government.  It must be updated and usable by the public.  The public also needs to be able to discuss and comment on the datasets, as well as request those that they would like access to in the future. However, the datasets the public can make the best use of are not always those which are readily available for publication. For this reason, citizens can send requests to ask for a certain type of data release. Montgomery County has done an excellent job applying these best practices. Montgomery County uses a software called Socrata to publish open data at portal we call dataMontgomery.  dataMontgomery provides “direct access to County datasets in consumable formats” so the public can “review and analyze raw data, and use it for a variety of purposes.” Some of the most popular datasets on dataMontgomery are the county employee salaries, food inspection, and service requests. Other information available involves the public school system as well as polling/elections. Residents can provide feedback on datasets and other issues in the county, as well as request datasets for release.

This open format conforms to the best practices in open data in Montgomery County because anyone can view it, and we are currently trying to apply it to applications and software so it has a variety of uses. One of our innovation projects, the interactive touchscreen kiosks, seeks to provide information to residents and travelers in town centers and dense areas. The food truck catalyst pilot will also apply open data, courtesy of dataMontgomery, in order to boost food trucks throughout the county. These applications of open data prove that the policy is successful and necessary because otherwise, a request from the government would be required and the data would be neither publicly available nor easily accessible.

We continue to be successful in providing open data as well as a portal for the public to provide feedback on this data. We are planning an Open Data Town Hall in the near future. We’ll post information on the town hall as soon as it comes available.


What are interactive touchscreen kiosks?

You have seen them in museums, train stations, and even malls: interactive touchscreen kiosks are popping up everywhere. That being noted, not everyone has access to a smartphone and internet connection is not always available. Besides, how could information be tailored to a specific location? With improved interactive touchscreen kiosk technology, all of this is possible. Montgomery County has several bustling town centers, filled with unique eateries and shopping experiences. The Innovation Program wrote about the potential for these kiosks in a previous post and progress has been made as we determine what our procurement content management strategy will be. The kiosks would provide restaurant and store information, public transportation information, and even things such as weather and data from our open data portal. Several potential pilot sites have been identified in Silver Spring and Bethesda. The information they provide would be beneficial to the shoppers and visitors.

Basically, these innovative devices will provide data and local information almost instantly. They could range from airport check-in areas to online shopping catalogs to a map of the region. These different applications show the versatility of this idea; this is where Montgomery County Innovation comes into play. We will decide what the most necessary and convenient features are, and then we will apply them to the kiosks.

The hardware of the kiosk is like a computer with a PC screen, encased so it cannot be harmed by the weather. They are touchscreen, making them interactive like the smartphone technologies many of us are accustomed to today.

Innovation fellow Andrew Rauch, who is working on the project with fellow Ann Bevans, provided a list of possible functions for the kiosks:

-Way finding
-Transit information
-Payphone service
-Cell phone charging stations
-Emergency notifications
-Social Media integration 
-Business Rating system
-Built-In Camera
Some aspects still being discussed include generating revenue and providing advertising on the kiosks. Updates on the status of this project will be posted next month, and we hope to launch the kiosks in 2014.

Project Update: Interactive Touchscreen Kiosks

Instant neighborhood information is increasingly demanded by visitors, residents, and travelers in the changing local community. Visitors want to discover top-rated restaurants and attractions; residents need to learn about local programs and services and receive safety alerts; travelers expect to save time by accessing real-time data about public transit and roads. All of that information requires public information communication. Diverse methods have been used to deliver public communication, including interactive touch-screen kiosks.  Montgomery County wants to pilot the use of these kiosks to deliver better public communication for pedestrians, improve way finding, help local business, and keep the community safe.

Kiosk specs

Although the specific functions and specifications are still to be determined, some features are known, which include:

  • The touchscreens will be approximately 47”, High Definition, LCD, LED backlit, and use the latest in green technology to reduce power consumption.
  • Each kiosk has two exterior grade speakers and one exterior grade microphone for public announcements and individual communication.
  • Wireless hot spots are also a planned function to provide pedestrians convenience for urgent information searching with their own portable devices (mobile phones, tablets, etc.).
  • Each enclosure will contain an environmental control system rated for outdoor installation.

Experiences from other jurisdictions

Montgomery County is not the only jurisdiction that sees the benefits of these types of kiosks as a tool used for public communication. Recently, New York City installed touchscreen maps in subways, and replaced payphones with interactive kiosks. Rochester, NY leveraged such kiosks as a way finding facility for visitors. Our project, though similar, is a little different from both New York City and the City of Rochester. The locations selected for New York City are mainly for subway stations and select business areas. Our pilot will focus initially on Silver Spring and Bethesda but not in areas controlled by WMATA.

Current site selection and partnerships

As this project is only a pilot program, a small number of locations are being sought as we collect lessons learned and operational experience. With help from the Silver Spring Regional Center, Bethesda Regional Center, and Bethesda Urban Partnership, we have tentatively identified some candidate locations that you can see on the Google maps below (you may need to zoom out once the map loads to see all the sites at once):

Those locations include traffic centers, downtown centers, colleges, and Regional Centers.

Next steps

We welcome your feedback on these locations and other potential locations. It is important to stress that all of this is TENTATIVE and pending approval. We are currently finalizing our fiscal analysis of pilot. The intent is to create a revenue neutral or very low cost pilot. Moving forward on this pilot is still subject to approval by the appropriate authorities.