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Open Data Portal Or City Dashboard: Which Should Your City Implement?

Choose wisely between these two options and your local government may have a shot at improving transparency with citizens.

As a ClearPoint Director, Laura leverages her over 25 years of experience working with non-profits and local governments to enable performance management best practice sharing between ClearPoint Community members.

Citizen trust is one thing every local government hopes to achieve—and most municipalities struggle with. The reason for this difficulty is that citizen trust must be earned; often, municipalities aren’t sure how to foster a sense of transparency and openness. A big part of this is knowing what and how much information to share.

If your city has found itself in this situation, consider implementing an open data portal or a city (or municipal) dashboard. Both options allow you to place certain data about your municipality for public viewing online, but they do have some very specific differences:

  • An open data portal enables your city to post large quantities of raw data online so your citizens can sift through it and make their own deductions.
  • A community dashboard enables your city to post a limited collected of curated data so your citizens can more easily understand the city’s progress toward its main goals and priorities.

Open Data Portal Or Municipal Dashboard: What factors should you consider when making your decision?

1. How much data do you want to display?

It may seem like the more data you publish, the better, but more isn’t always better where municipal data is concerned.

A city dashboard can give your municipality a competitive edge. Get started today by using our free design template.

If you place large data sets online through an open data portal, there’s no question your citizens will have more information available to them than if you used a city dashboard. But how many citizens are likely to dig through that data when they have their own lives to worry about? It’s possible that publishing too much information may be construed as confusing to the public, which won’t bring about the positive feeling you want. Furthermore, do the majority of your citizens possess the skills needed to understand these large data sets? They may have to work especially hard to simply understand an answer to their question, or they may draw the wrong conclusions.

A municipal dashboard displays much less raw data, but the process of understanding the impact of each of your city’s measures is far simpler for citizens (as they have access to a qualitative description next to all important measures). This makes it easier for your citizens to understand the city’s priorities and progress toward addressing them.

2. What kind of data do you want to display, and why?

The data you add online is meant to foster transparency, but if done incorrectly, it may simply frustrate them. For example, education may be a top concern for your citizens, but, depending on how public education is handled in your city (e.g. if the state or county has direct oversight over educational programs), your municipal government may not have a great degree of influence in that area. So if you put educational data online through an open data portal, your citizens may become frustrated or confused over what appears to be a lack of oversight on your part. But if you use a city dashboard, you’ll be able to explain how changes in education come about, and emphasize your commitment to tracking education-related data.

Another example: Let’s say your city recently experienced a severe hurricane, which caused a sharp decline in emergency response times for that quarter. If this data is only available through your open data portal, your citizens may be left with questions about why response time was so slow. But if you have a city dashboard, you’ll be able to explain how this particular quarter is abnormal for your city, and provide details around future response time goals.

3. How much work will it be to implement and maintain each data solution?

There are plenty of software options available for both open data portals and and city dashboards, but before you select one, there are a handful of things to consider.

  • Implementation: Does the system have an API that will seamlessly upload your data in its existing format, or will a staff member need to update the data and enter it manually?
  • Maintenance: We recommend speaking with current customers of prospective software vendors (ask the vendor for references!) to get their take on what it takes to maintain their chosen solution.
  • Support: Is the company responsive to your questions? Are support staff members readily available during the implementation process and beyond?

4. Will the software you’re considering have hidden or additional costs you haven’t considered?

While the primary goal is to be as transparent as possible with your data solution, it’s important that the software you choose works within your budget. Here are a few things to look out for so you aren’t surprised at any point:

  • Will you pay an upfront cost or ongoing costs for the software? Depending on the solution you’re considering, you might pay a one-time fee, an annual fee, or a monthly fee.
  • Will you have to pay extra for an additional amount of data? If you go with an open data portal software, you might think you’re getting a screaming deal—only to find out later there’s a substantial rate hike each time you add a new data set. Check before you sign on the dotted line!

5. Will your open data portal or city dashboard be easily accessible to your citizens?

This data won’t do anyone any good if your citizens can’t find it. So before you implement a solution that will certainly take a great deal of your time, effort, and financial resources to get online, you’ll want to be certain that it’s easy to access (even for those who aren’t computer savvy!) and simple to review. This means putting it in plain sight on your website and advertising it so citizens are aware of the data’s existence. You may also want to be sure that your portal works well in a responsive environment, so citizens can get this information on their tablets and phones.

So, should you select an open data portal or a city dashboard?

An open data portal reveals all your raw data—but requires your citizens to manipulate the data and draw their own conclusions as to the story behind the numbers. If your goal is simply to put as much city information online as possible, this is a good option for you.

A city dashboard limits the amount of data you put online—but enables your citizens to understand the story behind the city’s most important goals and measures. If you want to help your citizens easily understand your strategic priorities and your progress toward them, this is a better option.

Download Now: City Dashboard Design Template

If you’ve decided to use a municipal dashboard, check out our free dashboard design template, which makes it easy to get started. It includes detailed information about the click-through layers of a dashboard, visual examples of what each layer should look like, and summarized to-do lists to get you started. Download it today!

Open Data Portal Or City Dashboard: Which Should Your City Implement?