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3 Tips for Building an Awesome Open Data Portal

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Creating an easily accessible, insightful, and accurate open data portal is hard.

No one knows that better than GovDelivery’s Senior Open Data Consultant Sid Burgess. But in an effort to make the “how” of open data a little more clear, he’s offering up some tips you and your team can use to start building an open data portal of your own, or improve one you already have.

Tip #1: Reach your Audience

The first step to creating or improving any open data portal is to make sure your information reaches a wide audience. The faster you publish data online, the sooner it can be shared and linked to.

To help make data sharable, make sure all data sets and resources have their own unique URL. That way when citizens want to share your data with others, they can share the specific page they found helpful, not the whole portal.

Burgess said at this time it’s best to make data easily accessible and readable for citizens, but in the future data is going to be read increasingly by machines. Making sure data is published in the correct format will not only make it easy for your audience to read, but will allow other agencies to download and use your data — making them additional shareholders interested in your portal’s success.

Tip #2: Engage the Community

Open data doesn’t do your audience any good when they can’t read or easily access the information they’re looking for. Burgess said one of the most important steps to success is engaging your citizens, identifying their needs first, and building a community around your data.

So how do you do that? “Don’t be scared of being heavy in the customer interaction realm,” Burgess said. “A lot of the time, citizens will tell you what they want.” An easy way to do this is enabling commenting on your data.

Once your citizens have told you what information they are looking for, give it to them all in one place. First, push the information you know your audience wants, filling in information important to you later. Formatting data into charts, maps, graphs, or metrics are also some of the ways to make datasets more readable for a non-government audience. And finally, making sure to publish all data in one portal is important. When information is spread out over multiple platforms, it makes finding important information difficult for your audience.

“Just like you put labels on those boxes at the top of the closet so you don’t have to pull them down every year to see what’s in them,” Burgess said, “you want to categorize, label, and use rich metadata descriptions with your data sets so your citizens can quickly identify what you have available.”

The easier it is for citizens to pull meaningful information from your open data portal when and how they want, the more likely it is they will keep coming back for updated information.

Tip #3: Convert Citizens to Action

Once you’ve got a wide audience, you can begin to use your open data to drive citizens to actually doing things with it and implementing broad change.

“We’re all familiar with ‘hot button’ issues,” Burgess said. “Well, behind every one of those important topics is a wealth of data needs.” Getting the facts straight not only informs your audience, but also can change the way they would initially react to an issue.

Hot button issues are not the only ones that require clarification. You can provide information around any topic — like how many permitted pets have the recommended vaccinations, for example — to drive action.

What’s the last step to improving any portal? Sharing content.

When you send emails to your audience, make sure you embed some of the relevant data from your portal in the body of the email, drop them on other outlets — like local news, regional publications, and community organization websites — that already have your intended audience, and make sure all your data can be manipulated and visualized according to your audiences needs.

Getting your data out there on different platforms will grow your audience and dramatically improves your chances of the data having an impact. “When your data is shared,” Burgess said, “you will have many new citizen Chief Open Data Officers helping you visualize, improve, and propagate your data. Congratulations!”

For a handy checklist your organization can use to make sure your open data platform is a success, click here. Get more information about GovDelivery’s Open Data Solutions here, or read about other benefits of open data here.