Lessons from LA: How open data builds engagement

Thu, 2016-08-04 09:14 -- SCC Partner

Building public engagement is not an easy job, but one great way to do that is to give constituents better access to government. And Los Angeles found open data is a great avenue for doing that.

SixThirty Group interviewed Los Angeles’ deputy chief information officer, Joyce Edson. We’ve reprinted part of the interview below. Pay special attention to the types of data that the public is most interested in and how the city didn’t have to build all the digital services itself. She shares tips for engaging startups as well. — Kevin Ebi

“Explore Open Data” is a research project by the SixThirty Group, designed to promote open data standards and to help publishers and users accomplish more with open data. A major part of our research is this interview series featuring experts of open data. Through their visions, we intend to elucidate the roadmap for the future of open data.

This interview features Joyce Edson, the Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Los Angeles and the Assistant General Manager for the City’s Information Technology Agency. She joined Los Angeles in 1985 in a general Administrator position. In this role, she fell in love with using technology to achieve and to evaluate social changes. It has since played an important role in her career journey, as she worked to launch the City’s Open Data site, data.lacity.org, was the Interim Chief Data Officer, and now the Deputy Chief Information Officer.

Question: How has the public been engaged and what would you like to see more of?

Joyce: The city’s ability to engage its four million residents is always a challenge. We are trying to figure out different ways to make the engagement easier. The business portal was one way. We also have a system called BAVN, which is the Business Assistance Virtual Network. All of the city business opportunities, RFPs, commodities, and construction opportunities are posted on there. People can sign up for the types of information that they are interested in and get notification when we post an opportunity that is of their interest.

We are also looking into networking systems with other governments to expand our reach. If somebody has an interest or request for Santa Monica, and Los Angeles has information or a program related to that interest, or can fulfill that request, then the system will send an email to the person, which says, “We noticed that you went on to the City of Santa Monica and searched for this, did you know the City of LA has this?” We’re always looking to increase our participation in networks like this, so it will expand our reach to the public and make us more accessible.

Question: What are the fastest growing areas for data-related applications that you’ve seen in the City of LA?

Joyce: Transportation is always a big one, especially living in Los Angeles. Any application that has a transportation flavor to it is always very popular. Public safety and public infrastructure are also very hot topics and of great interest to the public. Public infrastructure can include everything from the quality of streets to WiFi availability. There is a city link project to provide better and lower cost WiFi internet coverage for the residents, because internet accessibility is the basis of a smart city. If you don’t have internet, you’re at a disadvantage. Other growing areas of applications in the public infrastructure domain also includes green technologies, childcare, and public recreation.

Question: Many startups also build applications that benefit the public. What is the engagement like from the startup world? Does the city have any programs to support startups?

Joyce: The city has an innovation center, La Kretz, around clean technology, and there are a number of startups are housed there. We are open to startup technology, but we also have the responsibility to make sure that our investment is going to be stable and sustainable, which may sometimes be an issue with startups. Our increasing effort in creating more APIs to our data is another way to support startups to create applications.

Technology for the city is coming out of the 2008 recession, where everything went into the deep freeze from a financial ability to keep up with technology. For the immediate, we are concentrating on modernizing ourselves and increasing the digital IQ of the City. We need to establish a solid foundation, but we also look for areas to responsibly advance in technology, where we can.

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Open data is about transparency, about giving citizens access to the data their tax dollars help create and it’s about innovation — enabling software developers to transform that data into useful applications that make city services available anytime, anywhere. The Council's Smart Cities Open Data Guide captures lessons learned and best practices from open data pioneers to provide others with a starting point to chart their own initiatives.