Supporting Public Purpose Applications

This month, I began working with the Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC) to help them figure out how to share their treasure trove of data about the Chicago region with the rest of the world – more than 100 data sets covering more than a decade. They’ve seen the promised land on the horizon, a rich world of “public purpose applications” powered by data and empowering all sorts of folks to make better decisions in a wide variety of contexts.

But MCIC knows that without access to quality data and technical assistance to understand what the data can and can’t ‘say’, the dangers Lessig has pointed out will limit the impact of this emerging field. Developers should be free to focus on building rich, engaging, and useful applications rather than poring over non-standard metadata or trying to match seasonally with non-seasonally adjusted data sets.

MCIC is uniquely situated to provide both data and technical assistance for many of these applications; from their boilerplate description:

Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC) is an independent, non-profit organization that provides the highest quality data collection, analysis and consultation to institutions dedicated to investing in communities and enriching lives. Though MCIC does not advocate specific public policies or policy choices, we strive to provide critical information and insight necessary to support human services, cultural programs and overall economic growth. MCIC was founded in 1990 by a consortium of regional business and philanthropic leaders at the Commercial Club of Chicago. MCIC works from a fundamental philosophy that better information produces better decisions.

As a self-described ‘legacy organization’, MCIC has a great deal of work to do in order to start sharing their data library. Figuring out the various licensing requirements based on their sources, standardizing all of the metadata, and building and creating documentation for an API will take a while. There’s also the matter of figuring out how to pay for this new and as of yet unfunded program (suggestions welcome).

MCIC is actively seeking your feedback on what to share, how to share it, and how to provide technical assistance. Below is a list of the data keywords from their catalog – please vote for which you think should be shared first.

Additionally, please leave a comment about how you think the mechanics of this sharing should work; as a developer of public purpose applications, what would make your life easier? How should we provide technical assistance on using this data? Finally, if you have a specific data set you’ve been searching for, drop us a line. If we have it and can, we’ll be happy to share.

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