What Data Means for Madison, Wisconsin: A new collaboration with the Sunlight Foundation

Because Reboot’s mission is good governance, we frequently work on projects that promote “open data,” probing and testing the limits of the idea that official government data can be used to address everyday citizens’ problems. In this work, one of the most consistent challenges we’ve found is in answering the simple question: “What is open data—and why does it matter to me?”

Civic tech experts and many policymakers are deeply familiar with the concept of making records of 311 calls, housing information, construction permits, and other kinds of official data freely available to anyone. Our research has shown that this is most powerful when ordinary people understand—and feel excited about—the usefulness of datasets to their lives. Data can help people start a business, choose where to live, improve and green their neighborhood, advocate for fairer housing policies, and much more.

To raise that crucial awareness, we have found that it is best to tangibly demonstrate how data can accelerate important work that is already being done to achieve local residents’ visions. That’s why we are pleased to announce a new project in Madison, Wisconsin, which we hope will offer exactly that kind of tangible demonstration.

A Project to Make Neighborhoods More “Complete”

In collaboration with the Sunlight Foundation and the City of Madison, Wisconsin, Reboot is conducting research and workshops this week with local organizations to spark ideas for how open data might support their work—and provide a useful case study for cities everywhere.

We are specifically looking at how Madison can foster more “complete neighborhoods,” an opportunity that emerged directly from city residents. As the Sunlight Foundation writes:

“Community members in Madison, Wisconsin want to make their neighborhoods more “complete.” Rather than having to drive long distances to get what they need each day, residents want the city to foster areas where homes, grocery stores, schools, and other daily needs are accessible and convenient for all.

At the same time, Madison’s city government is relaunching its existing open data program with a focus on connecting to resident needs. The city adopted an open data ordinance in 2012 and has built an open data platform, but realized that city open data could do more to empower residents and make an impact.

Open data from city hall can likely help Madison community members advance citywide goals, such as a desire for more complete neighborhoods. But how?”

That’s what we’re seeking to answer right now. We recently wrote on this blog about the Sunlight Foundation’s “A Guide to Tactical Data Engagement,” a new tool for governments interested in working with communities and data. Our work together in Madison is part of the first-ever pilot of the four-step approach detailed in that guide.

You can read more about the guide, and how it will apply to our work in Madison, in the rest of the post on the Sunlight Foundation’s blog. And we’ll be sharing more updates and insights from that work over the next few months—hopefully, it will be another tangible demonstration that we can use to spread the word, and the excitement, about Open Data for everyone. If you want to learn more, follow the conversation on Twitter with #TacticalData and sign up here for Reboot’s quarterly newsletter, and we’ll send you the results of what we find!


Photo credit: Left, Jonathan Hartsaw via Flickr. Right, Steven Larrick.

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