In the story of New Orleans’ recovery, data has played a vital and steadfast role from day one. Population counts, the number of blighted properties, the number of returning school children among many other data points all weighed heavily on decisions made by citizens and government alike post-Katrina.
In early 2011, the City of New Orleans made a first step to make the data that it manages more available to citizens and policy-makers. The Information Technology and Information department went live with a website called data.nola.gov. The platform began with just a handful of datasets, liberated by City departments and agencies that wanted to share information for the common good. Slowly but steadily, the cache of information in the portal grew—the parcel layer, historical permit information, and emergency demolition information—all datasets that local and national folks were requesting regularly.
Innovating with data
Then in October of 2012, the City partnered with Code for America to solve the challenge of making the blight process more transparent. Through this partnership, Code for America created BlightStatus, a app used to track properties through the blight pipeline. This gave all concerned a window into how property moved through the City’s Code Enforcement process. However, the app would not have been possible without the data that was published to data.nola.gov. Other datasets were released to support the effort as well, including a calendar of Code Enforcement hearings.
Through 2013, City staffers worked hard to publish high-demand datasets to the portal. Along the way, we were able to share many City datasets that the public had been asking for including:
The City has also built apps on this data including:
- NoticeMe, which enables citizens to sign up for push notifications for land-use changes in the neighborhood or neighborhoods they care about.
- RoadWork, a map of planned, completed, and in-progress road projects by DPW, S&WB, the State of Louisiana, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
- Where Y'at, which is a tool that allows citizens to type an address to see sanitation schedules, and municipal district, zoning, and neighborhood information.
Partnering with What Works Cities and the Sunlight Foundation
In 2015, the City partnered with The Sunlight Foundation to participate in the What Works Cities Initiative, a Bloomberg Philanthropies project, working to increase cities' use of data and evidence to improve results for residents. The partnership focused on establishing a data policy and leveraging data to perform low-cost evaluations that test possible solutions to City problems.
During the partnership, it became clear that while the City of New Orleans had been a leader and early adopter of open data, there was no established policy for what datasets should be published and no set criteria for determining a dataset's value. There also was no resource for knowing what data one department had that another could use.
Therefore, the primary component of a Mayor's Executive Order around data would be to establish a data inventory and the creation of criteria that would identify high-quality datasets for publication, while maintaining safeguards aginst publishing sensitive or private data about citizens.
Sustainability of our open data work is critical. In the next phase of the project, departments will work with the Enterprise Information Data Team to identify and score their datasets, taking on a much larger role in the ownership of the publication of their data. The continued alignment of open data with data-informed approaches to solving problems will help departments and citizens continue create a better and more equitable City for all.