Transit Data

Second Open Data Town Hall Results

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 marked the second Open Data Town Hall and the first at the Upcountydatatownhall5 Regional Services Center, hosted by the Montgomery County Innovation Program in collaboration with the Department of Technology Services. This town hall was set up in response to the success of the first Open Data Town Hall in November. A unique aspect about this town hall is that many Montgomery County Public Schools students were reached out to and participated in the town hall. Involving and educating the youth of the county in these events broadens the spectrum of data and increases their knowledge datatownhall13-225x300of open government. Montgomery County continues to be a national example in the realm of open data. Data that is “open” must be available to the public in a form that is machine-readable, searchable, analyzable, and permanent. Feedback and comments on the datasets are also necessary, along with requests for future datasets. Montgomery County has over 30 already available on dataMontgomery with many more on the way.

 

BfJfJeDCcAAJ2DE.jpg-largeChief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman started off the evening with a brief overview of the Innovation Program: projects must be able to scale up and they must be experimental in nature. Leading up to the Town Hall, Dan Hoffman asked residents of Montgomery County to fill out a sheet with their Open Data ideas. Many people responded with ideas from bus GPS data to public school nutrition facts.

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Victoria Lewis from the Department of Technology Services presented second. She is the project manager for dataMontgomery, which went live at the end of 2012. She informed the audience that town halls such as these are important in order to receive feedback from the county about the types of data requested to add to the implementation plan. dataMontgomery is part of Open Montgomery, which consists of four pillars: dataMontgomery, accessMontgomery, engageMontgomery, and mobileMontgomery. First, dataMontgomery is the open data portal where datasets are published, readable, and requestable for the residents of Montgomery County. accessMontgomery allows direct access to important county information, such as through the non-emergency line MC311 or CountyStat. engageMontgomery is like a one-on-one conversation about open data, where county officials can post forums and answer questions about datasets, and residents can post their ideas. Lastly, mobileMontgomery is the mobile site on Montgomery County, so residents can view county information, such as library hours and RideOn schedules, on the go. Victoria Lewis confirmed that while over 30 datasets exist on dataMontgomery currently, many more remain to be published.

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Ewan Simpson from Socrata, a company specializing in open data, spoke next regarding the importance and benefits of open data portals. They allow data to be searchable, sortable, and consumable. This leads to an efficient open government and a strong citizen connection.

After the speakers, attendees prepared for the main event: the feedback session. Tables set up around the room labeled with a category of data each had a representative who took notes on residents’ suggestions and discussed ideas with them. Everyone traveled around the room from table to table, sharing their suggestions and ideas about additions to dataMontgomery. Representatives from Montgomery Community Media interviewed residents and asked what types of data they wanted to see.

Here is a breakdown of the results of the Second Open Data Town Hall:

Health, Housing, Social Services

  • Date on free emergency food, clothing, and shelter
  • A community map to filter options for types of services
  • Socioeconomic data
  • Map of a concentration of health issues or diseases in different areas
  • Where basic services are located
  • Food venues that fit health or dietary needs
  • After school activities chart
  • Real time updates on events in the County
  • Locating the most affordable housing communities and properties
  • Food and housing inspection grades

Finance/Budget

  • Property tax map
  • MCPS data
  • Projections to see impacts on the County
  • How taxes are spent
  • Cross department information

Public Safety

  • Crime reports in a data format
  • Incidents on a map, indicating calls to an area
  • Police and Fire Department response times
  • Collision data
  • Geographic data

Transportation

  • Pothole reports
  • Traffic directions

Elections, Libraries, Recreation

  • Recreational centers by zip code with names of facilities, types, and activities
  • Hours of centers
  • Searchable by date, time, and location
  • Pool schedules
  • Party venues and event information
  • Contextualized view of neighborhoods and zip codes

Miscellaneous

  • School financial data
  • Innovation project funding
  • Achievement gap data
  • Liquor store inventory
  • Public school test scores

The Innovation Program would like to thank all participants and volunteers for making the Upcounty Open Data Town Hall a success. We hope to continue to hear your open data suggestions and ideas. Please make your voice heard and suggest a data set today!

Photos courtesy of @MoCoDanHoffman, @SonyaNBurke, Montgomery Community Media via #opendataMC

 

 

Data + Action = Result

Next week is our second Open Data Town Hall at the Upcounty Regional Services Center. I hope you can make it out and give us your feedback on the type of data you’d like to see the county publish on dataMontgomery. This week and next I’d like to flex our social media muscle and hear from even more people about their open data priorities.

The usefulness of Open Data can be summed up in a simple equation: Data + Action = Result. When the right data (let’s say crime data) is added to an action (perhaps a mobile application that can give you alerts), the result can be very beneficial (like having a greater awareness of what is happening in your neighborhood). The possibilities are astounding. So how can you participate?

First off download and print this simple one-page sheet. Write the data you’d like to see the County publish and what you’d like to do with it. Then take a photo holding the sheet. Just like this, except try to be more photogenic than this guy.20140122_152953-e1390423476542-576x1024

Then tweet it or post to Facebook using the hashtag #opendataMC. That last part is very important, use the hashtag. If you’re using Facebook you can also share it on our Innovation Program Facebook page. We’ll be using every single tweet and Facebook mention as input to our open data prioritization. So get started and be creative. What catches your interest? Transit data, food data, economic data, permitting data. We estimate that there will be hundreds of datasets in our inventory and we need to know what’s most useful to you.

What does Open Data mean to you?

Leading up to our second Open Data Town Hall on January 28th, we want to know what open data means to you. What do you want us to publish on dataMontgomery? What could you do with the data? Here are a couple responses from our first town hall in November.

Let us know what you’d like published and please join us at our next Open Data Town Hall! Also, help us promote the event by sharing this Facebook invitation with your friends.

 

Open Data Town Hall Results

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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:

Environment:

  • County building energy efficiency
  • Recycling rates in buildings
  • Tree canopy law information
  • Locations of resources
  • Invasive Plant Map
  • Green space data

Transportation:

  • Traffic flow information
  • Bus stop locations
  • Real-time service alerts
  • Toll road information

Public Safety:

  • Graphic data/maps
  • Crime incidents
  • Dangerous intersections (collision information)
  • Response times for Police and Fire Departments

Social Services:

  • County facilities located on maps
  • Services offered at facilities
  • Languages offered at facilities
  • Rates, transportation, hours at facilities
  • Mental health facilities mapped

Government Operations:

  • Open checkbook: spending, budget, project bids
  • Where the spending is goes and to whom it goes
  • Council vote tracking
  • Record requests (MPIA, FOIA)

Miscellaneous:  

  • 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.

Also, check out some great video coverage of the event here. There are also some great write-ups from MyMCMedia, BethesdaNow, and the Gazette.

Photos courtesy of Twitter: @MoCoDanHoffman, @CountyCableMoCo, and @ValerieBonk via #opendataMC.

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
-Ticketing
-Payphone service
-Cell phone charging stations
-Wi-Fi
-Emergency notifications
-Skype 
-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.

Montgomery County’s Open Data Implementation

On September 9th, 2013, Montgomery County’s Government Operations (GO) committee held a work session to discuss the best practices in open data initiatives in Montgomery County.  Montgomery County’s open data policy involves providing the public a portal of open datasets for viewing.  Also discussed was how this data can be manipulated to benefit the three groups that usually seek out public data, which are residents, businesses, and software developers.  The program dataMontgomery releases these datasets, and it is important that they are useful to residents. These public datasets could be applied to current Innovation projects, such as the interactive touchscreen kiosk project, because they can provide data to residents or visitors on command.

The Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) released a report on July 9th, 2013, regarding best practices in open data. Open data is “making information publicly and easily available to individuals without the need for a government request.” Montgomery County and many other local governments nationwide are adhering to this idea ever since President Obama released new policy initiatives and raised the standards. Government data should be publicly available and accessible, not only available upon request.

In order for the open data policy to be successful, the benefits need to outweigh the costs. Money, time, and effort are required to publish and maintain these datasets. Some current apps running in different cities throughout the country were discussed at the meeting. For example, in New York an app located the available wireless hotspots. In Chicago, an app maps available commercial properties.

The main intent of this session was to get the status of implementation of the open data initiative. Click here to read a summary of the September 9th meeting.

Montgomery County holds first Hackathon!

In today’s world there exists as much as a thousand zettabytes of data. How can we make sense of this data and put it in a useful form? Can any of it be classified as information? Information by definition is data that has been processed. And information, in turn, results in intelligence. This is exactly what more than 11,000 people successfully did on the first weekend in June, 2013 on The National Day of Civic Hacking. These people engaged themselves in finding ways to put these enormous amounts of data to some constructive use. The event was organized at more than 90 different venues all over the United States from June 1-2, 2013. Montgomery County participated in this massive civic engagement effort by holding our first Hackathon.

NDoCH T-ShirtsThe event, #Hack4MoCo, was held at the Universities at Shady Grove on June 1, 2013. The event was organized by the Innovation Program and the County Department of Technology Services. The main idea behind the entire process was to bring together local civic hackers, coders, residents, and entrepreneurs to solve some of the problems that are faced by County government. The data is or could be published on the dataMontgomery site which is the repository for County data about subjects ranging from the operating budget, employee salaries, and electrical permits to service requests from residents. The meeting started with the registration process and snacks followed by an introduction of the Open Montgomery Portal by Mr. Sonny Segal, the County’s Chief Information Officer. Mr. Segal introduced openMontgomery to the attendees and made them aware of the kind of potential it had for being beneficial to the community. After Mr. Segal’s address, Montgomery County’s Chief Innovation Officer, Mr. Dan Hoffman, laid out the rules and flow of the event.

How It Worked

We employed the reverse pitch approach, wherein every representative group had 3-5 minutes to describe their challenge to the attendees. Instead of providing the participants with a ready solution, our aim was to give them a chance to come up with the creative solutions that they thought were best suited. A total of five ideas were put in front of the attendees. These ideas were presented by officials from respective departments. Attendees were given time to question the presenters. The developers, hackers, and department representatives were then divided into different groups in order to discuss the possible solutions. Three groups presented their solutions in the end. The groups had fruitful meetings and were able to approach the problem from both the developer’s point of view as well as the county residents’. Each group was given two hours before dinner to frame the solutions which were then discussed over dinner.

The results:

A)    Food Recovery Application – Presented by Linda McMillan of the Food Recovery Working Group

Tons of food is wasted in different grocery shops, kitchens of schools, and restaurants. Food which is fit for consumption and can help feed those in need. There is no adept system available for the food donors and/or the demand centers like shelters and food pantries. The County Food Recovery group wants to devise a method so that this food can be quickly made available to the people who need it.

Solution Presented:  The conceptual solution was to develop a web platform which would connect the participants. When any donor posts about the availability of food, the potential consumers in the vicinity will be notified by an SMS. The concerned consumer can acknowledge the receipt of such a message by responding to it and mentioning the food items they will be able to pick up in a given time frame. In case of no reply, another SMS will be sent out. This time the radius of the recipients notified will be expanded. The same acknowledgement method will be used again. The process will be repeated until all the excess food is donated or goes bad.

B)     Transit Data Visualization – Presented by Kurt Raschke, resident expert and blogger

There is a lot of logged data available about the transit system in the County but it does not help the county residents. It does not enable them to know about the delays and changes in the routes. The transit data can be used to help the commuters know these things in real time so that they can plan their travel accordingly.

Solution Presented: The group suggested using Twitter to provide real time updates regarding any delay and the status of the transit routes. Different hash tags can be used for different routes and the commuters can follow tweets that have the hash tags pertaining to their routes. The team suggested using optimization research techniques employing the data that is previously available so that the routes can be effectively updated.

C)     MC311 Service Requests and Twitter – Presented by Leslie Hamm, MC311

Montgomery County’s 311 service request department has posted data about previous service requests. The data posted on the Open Montgomery website would help us identify the problematic areas specific to various regions of the county. While the department officials came up with the idea of using twitter to submit requests, the developers took advantage of the reverse pitch flow and suggested a much better solution to the problem.

Solution Presented: The developers thought of developing a native mobile app which enables the user to perform four different tasks. The first task will be to submit a new request. The developers suggested making the GUI intuitive so that the residents can easily submit requests. Secondly, the app would enable residents to check the status of their current request. The third option will let the user know the history of their requests. The fourth option – the main feature of the app – would show on a map the types of requests that have been previously made in the user’s region of the county. This would make it easier to determine whether there is a pattern to certain requests in any particular region.

Two other reverse pitches were made to the attendees. One was on the topic of My Green Montgomery. Thank you to Jessica Jones and Scott Faunce from Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection for presenting on this topic. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also presented on the clean drinking water data they publish. No reports were generated on those topics but we’re planning a follow-up event to specifically explore environmental topics.

Montgomery County’s Hackathon saw some of the best minds come together to brainstorm on the uses of the data that can be obtained from the dataMontgomery site. The event concluded with presentations over dinner and a good amount of networking and connecting. The primary desired outcome of any hackathon is the community building and connecting that occurs when developers and anyone with technical skills volunteer their time and talent for civic improvement. For this reason, hackathons are not standalone events, but part of a dialogue between the County, residents, and the tech community. In the case of Montgomery County this was the first step in starting that dialog. For photos from the event click here.

Innovation Fellow Atirek Gupta contributed to this article.