Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

Good Planning Begins with Good Data: Mapping Tools for Community Organizers

 

Recently I had the opportunity to co-teach an elective, Good Planning Begins with Good Data, for the Citizens Planning Institute.  The Citizens Planning Institute, organized and operated by the City of Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission, has a mission “to empower citizens to take a more effective and active role in shaping the future of their neighborhoods and of Philadelphia, through a greater understanding of city planning and the steps involved in development projects.”  CPI teaches community organizers and activists about the role of good planning and implementation to enrich their communities and neighborhoods in which they live.  CPI provides two programs yearly which enroll about 25 students each.  Each program includes a rigorous application process and a curriculum of core and elective courses.

The three hour elective course, Good Planning Begins with Good Data, discussed how data informs better decisions and the importance of collecting and presenting data accurately.  The course had the highest enrollment and interest of any elective ever offered by CPI and included the current program’s students as well as many alums.  There was clearly an unmet need among Philadelphia’s community organizers for instruction on locating, assembling and presenting data in meaningful ways.

In order to demonstrate the key principles of our topics, the course focused on the case study of a hypothetical vacant lot in North Philadelphia that had potential to be converted to a community garden.

Mark Wheeler of the City Planning Commission discussed available City resources for accessing planning, zoning and property data such as: Phila.gov/map, Cultureblocks.com, OPA Property Search and more.  Lauren Gilchrist described how to access key census data tables using American FactFinder and analyze and aggregate the data with key Excel commands.  She also described the best methods for creating web and in person surveys for collecting data.

The portion of the course that I taught was on the available tools for mapping data as well as the best way to engage experts in the arena of mapping data.  Below is a Q and A featuring the most interesting topics and questions from my talk:

Q: Why bother mapping your organization’s data?

A:  Visualizing data is a powerful way to tell your story.  Maps are easier for your constituents to understand than a huge database of information.  And by mapping your data, you can expose hidden patterns and relationships in your data.

Q: What is spatial data?

A: Spatial data is data that defines a geographic boundary or location.  This data comes in many forms: it can be point data such as addresses of constituents, it can be boundary data such as census tracts with demographics.  It can also be grid-based such as land cover or aerial imagery.

Q: How should I format the data I collect?

A: When you collect data, be sure to store it in a spreadsheet such as Excel.  Assign a unique ID to each record and store address information in separate columns (address, city, state and zip).  Keep the document as clean and simple as possible.  This guide is helpful in understanding how you should prepare your data if you plan to map it.

Q: What desktop and web mapping tools exist?

A: The most popular desktop mapping tool is Esri’s ArcGIS desktop software which has discount licenses available for home or nonprofit use.  QGIS is also a great option for desktop GIS. It’s open source software with a lot of geoprocessing tools.

 A great tool for learning QGIS is the QGIS Training Manual.  Desktop tools can have a steep learning curve but generally have greater processing power.

Web tools offer another range of mapping capabilities and can generally be easier to use but have a pricing structure that ranges from free to an expensive monthly fee.  CartoDB is a fantastic tool with a free tier that can be used to quickly make a map.

Q: How can I engage experts to assist me in mapping?

A: Understanding a bit about how spatial analysis is used to answer questions is helpful when determining the analytical needs of your own organization.  Preparing your data using the recommendations described above (or this guide) can be really helpful to a consultant who will spatially enable your data. Azavea offers fantastic spatial analysis and mapping services for our clients.  Hopeworks, a nonprofit in Camden, also does interesting spatial analysis work while providing training opportunities to high school students.

Q: What pro bono and civic services exist to contribute to my work?

A: The Summer of Maps program is a great resource for nonprofits needing spatial analysis services.  Civic hackers such as Code For Philly and area Hackathons may also be interested in provide assistance in mapping the data your organization has if it serves as a civic resource to others.

 

SeattleTreeMap.org: Mapping Trees for the Birds that Live in Them

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series OpenTreeMap Community

SeattleTreeMap bannerA few weeks ago, I was on the phone with Brian Windrope, the Executive Director of the Seattle Audubon Society. We were talking about one of the newest additions to the OpenTreeMap community, the Seattle Audubon’s new SeattleTreeMap.org site, when Brian stopped me. “Woah! I just saw a hummingbird outside my window!” he said.

Whether you’re a migrating hummingbird or an urban tree, spring is a busy time of year. Tree root systems shuttle water and nutrients up to the longest branches, and flowering trees like the beautiful Kwanzan Cherry blossom with spectacular color to greet the longer, sunny days.

As the trees are awakening, so too are urban foresters. This March saw the launch of two large OpenTreeMap instances ready to serve foresters and citizen scientists in two west coast US cities: TreePeople’s TreeMapLA.org, one of the first maps on our new OpenTreeMap.org cloud platform, and the Seattle Audubon’s SeattleTreeMap.org, the latest site to take advantage of the OpenTreeMap project’s open source code.

SeattleTreeMap.org has been a long time in the making, thanks to the support of the Seattle Audubon and the volunteer software development work of Alan Humphrey, a member of the Seattle Audubon himself. I’ve gotten to know Alan a little bit over the months through his invaluable contributions to the OpenTreeMap-user mailing list. The work he’s done to get SeattleTreeMap.org up and running with a whole host of new features is quite impressive – everything from server side “tree dot” clustering to re-writing much of OTM1’s JavaScript in the new Dart language. Alan and the Seattle Audubon completed and launched SeattleTreeMap.org entirely without Azavea’s involvement. That’s the mark of a thriving open source software project!

While SeattleTreeMap.org is interesting on the software level, the real story here is how the map fits into the Seattle Audubon Society’s hollistic nature conservation strategy. The Seattle Audubon was founded in 1916 and is the oldest environmental organization in the State of Washington. With a long history of achievements in conservation, more recently the Seattle Audubon has come to recognize the dominance of urban environmental issues within the growing Seattle metropolitan area. “When you look at it from the point of view of climate change, birds themselves…water retention and so on…there is a range of issues from a lack of [urban tree] canopy,” said Brian. “We came to recognize that, and really wanted to show some leadership.”

Birds and trees in harmony in urban Seattle - by Flickr user rutlo

Birds and trees in harmony in urban Seattle – by Flickr user rutlo

SeattleTreeMap.org is part of the Seattle Audubon’s larger “Canopy Connections” project, designed to document, map and improve Seattle’s urban forest habitat. One objective of the Tree Map and the Canopy Connections project is educational. “[Many people are] not aware of the role of the urban canopy for all sorts of health reasons…and so there’s an educational purpose,” Brian said. “[Our hope is to] get people to know about, care about, and therefore act on that information.”

In 2007, The City of Seattle set a goal for 30% canopy cover by 2037. In 2011, Seattle Audubon conducted a study of the city’s current tree canopy cover and found it had hovered around 23% since 2007. Brian hopes the tree map will draw attention to the need to improve urban canopy, and also function as a tool the Seattle Audubon and other partners in the City can use for conservation, planning tree planting, and conducting further advocacy. “The Tree Map is a tool we can use to get people to pressure the City to take seriously their own established goal of restoring the urban canopy,” he said.

Growing the urban tree canopy and planning how best to do so is not a challenge unique to Seattle. Many groups struggle with prioritizing tree plantings in order to achieve the optimal ecological, economic, and social results. We’re investigating solutions to that challenge as part of our Urban Forest Modeling work that uses Azavea’s GeoTrellis toolkit. Over the next year, we plan to integrate heat maps, forecast models, and other tools into OpenTreeMap to assist users in exploring ideal places to plant trees.

While many urban forestry organizations are new to OpenTreeMap’s collaborative model of working with volunteers to collect data about the environment, citizen science is a well-established activity among the birding community. While the Seattle Audubon participates in the national Audubon Society’s famous Christmas Bird Count survey, it also conducts its own year-long surveys like the Puget Sound Seabird Survey and Neighborhood Bird Project. “The greatest benefit of this sort of citizen science is that data is spread out over the course of the year, so you get to see the trends across the seasons and you just have a lot more eyes looking many more days,” said Brian.

For the Puget Sound Seabird Survey, Seattle Audubon volunteers go out every month to locations around Puget Sound to count rare, migratory seabirds. Through the survey, said Brian, “we’re able to collect important baseline data on what we have. People have anecdotal stories left and right, ‘Oh, we used to see many more Grebes, oh, we used to see many more of this,’ but the State hasn’t done any systematic work on population surveys, and we’re filling that niche by working directly with our volunteers.”

Seabirds are not directly related to the Tree Map, but Brian is emphatic that it’s all a piece of a whole. “We’re Audubon: no one else is about birds the way we’re about birds,” said Brian, “But it would be silly to think of birds outside the context of everything else that they’re connected with.”

Among the Audubon Society, there’s a common expression that Brian brought up during our conversation: “Where birds thrive, people prosper.” I would agree, and add that trees are a crucial component of any such environment. There’s also something similar to be said about the necessary connection between an open source software project and its community. It’s tremendously exciting to see SeattleTreeMap.org take flight and demonstrate each one of these relationships!

Which Candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania Support Open Data?

odi-node-logoFor the past few years as the open data movement has gained momentum in the US, much of the action and gains have been at the local and federal levels. While a scattered set of states have open data policies and portals in place, for one reason or another state governments have been a bit slower on the uptake. This is unfortunate, because state agencies like those in Pennsylvania perform a lot of functions (and generate a lot of data) in areas like environment, education, health and welfare, transportation, economy, and public safety. As the US ODI’s Waldo Jaquith was quoted in a recent Government Technology article:

“In the U.S. [federal collaboration] doesn’t get you much. State governments are so important, so powerful here, that you can’t just have one great relationship with one great government and really accomplish much,” he said, contrasting the U.S. against Europe, where countries are often smaller and more unified.

Pennsylvania is one of the many states with no open data portal or policy at the state level. While the rather new Office of Open Records has made great strides in ensuring government transparency and accountability, it has also been hampered by more than its fair share of burdens and challenges. Moreover, in many of its cases, the Office of Open Records should not have to fight so hard on behalf of Pennsylvania citizens to free state government information. As residents of Pennsylvania, we should expect better standards and a culture of “open by default” from our state government.

A couple months ago, Bob Gradeck from Open Pittsburgh reached out on the OpenDataPhilly list about how civic hackers in our two Pennsylvanian cities could collaborate at a statewide level. In particular, Bob and his collaborators in Pittsburgh were interested in making open data an issue for this year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial election. Azavea had just applied for and received ODI Node status for Philadelphia, and helping to promote a statewide open data constituency seemed to me to be a great way to leverage that new designation.

Bob’s first email precipitated more email chains, some conference calls, and a Google Doc as more and more of us with ties to both Open Pittsburgh and Code for Philly came out of the woodwork to craft a website and questionnaire on open data to send to all declared gubernatorial candidates for Pennsylvania. We were on a quick timeline: We had to send out the questionnaire with adequate time for candidates to respond and for Pennsylvania voters to consider their responses before the state primary on May 20.

Candidate questionnaires are an old tool of political engagement, long employed by special interest groups across the country to tease out the thinking of political candidates on particular issues important to specific communities – everyone from the League of Conservation Voters to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (as just two examples). As civic hackers, sometimes we can be too quick to focus purely on building and deploying technology – we forget there are other tried and true ways for us to engage government and civic institutions that don’t involve apps and hackathons. Even though with this questionnaire our focus was still on open data and technology, our approach was low tech and still highly effective.

By “highly effective,” I mean that we received a response for every declared candidate but one. That’s 7 in total! Pennsylvania’s incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett did not respond to our questionnaire, though Corbett did respond to the PA NewsMedia Association’s questionnaire, which included a question related to open data. The NewsMedia Association was also very helpful and posted our open data questionnaire on their website.

You can view each candidate’s full response to each of our 6 questions at http://opendatapasurvey.pgh.io/. What ideas did they have on how to strengthen open data in Pennsylvania? Below is my own editorial summary of each candidate’s most salient ideas, in alphabetical order. Each candidate’s portrait links to their campaign site if you’d like to learn more about them. If you’re short on time, there are a few key questions and graphical indicators (gray being n/a, red being the worst, yellow in the middle, and green the best) to skim that indicate my own judgement calls on how well each candidate addressed each question.

Tom Corbett – Incumbent Governor of Pennsylvania; Republican Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_gray
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_gray
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_gray
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_gray
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_gray
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_gray
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_gray

As the only candidate who did not submit a response to our questionnaire, it’s hard for me to say what Governor Corbett’s opinions are regarding open data. That said, the Corbett administration’s record on openness and transparency issues does not inspire confidence. In the response he did provide to the PA NewsMedia Association’s questionnaire, he said he was familiar with the open data movement and believed his administration’s accomplishments – specifically, the PennWATCH website and Department of State’s improved campaign finance interface – “have been significant strides in making our state government more open, and I intend to build upon these efforts.”

Unfortunately, neither of these two examples get at the heart of open data. The state of campaign finance disclosure in Pennsylvania has been called out by other candidates and the media as lacking – and the problem is more about the law that allows filing disclosures on paper, rather than software and data.

Second, in my perusal of state agency websites, I saw a number of prominent links and references to the fairly-new PennWATCH website, which claims to provide data on the state budget, spending, revenue, and employees of each state agency – not exactly a comprehensive open data catalog, but some interesting information nonetheless. The first time I tried to use the site, I was presented with errors in place of each of the Java applets that are supposed to display this data. On later attempts I was able to use the site, but some features were slow and others still didn’t work. Nowhere on the site did I see an option to download bulk data in a machine-readable form like a CSV or JSON file – failing to meet many principles listed on OpenGovData.org and #19 in the Sunlight Foundation’s list of open data principles. That the Java applets appear to be the only way to view the data on PennWATCH violates even more of those principles and additionally makes the data even harder to scrape if one wanted to.

chart from PennWATCH website

PennWATCH is interesting, but it’s not open data.

Charts frozen within Java applets are not the same as providing machine-readable open data. Which is too bad, because the PennWATCH website is an interesting concept. With real open data, I’m sure Open Pittsburgh or Code for Philly or others in the state would be able to help the state implement alternative, creative, and more powerful ways to explore state financial transparency.

Paul Glover – Community Organizer; Green Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_yellow
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_red
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_red
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_red

Though Paul Glover was brief with his responses to our questionnaire, it’s clear from most of what he did say that he does “…favor complete availability of all public records,” (question 1). In question 6, he specifically mentions that his appointments as governor would be “aggressively dedicated to full disclosure by default.” That’s a good philosophy to look for, and one of Sunlight’s open data guidelines. One interesting point Glover brought up in question 3 is the idea of using technology to accept “interactive public input…so that the public can use government websites as organizing and advocacy tools.” To me, that sounds a lot like former FCC managing director Steve Van Roekel’s assertion that the public could “take us [the FCC] to court with one of the blog comments” from the FCC’s redesigned websites under his tenure. The redesigned FCC.gov received accolades for its implementation of open government principles when it was launched. If Glover is indeed thinking in a similar vein, his creativity should be noted.

One area in which Glover’s expressed opinions fall short of the open government ideal is apparent in his answer to question 1, where he states public records should be available “at no cost to nonprofits and private citizens.” While at first that might make sense, Glover’s statement leaves the door open for access fees or possible licensing restrictions for commercial users and uses of government data. As the Sunlight Foundation’s open data policy guidelines say, truly open data should be license-free (#11) and have no restrictions on its use (#10). This includes users outside nonprofits and private citizens. One key benefit of open data is the entrepreneurial and commercial activity it can enable.

Bob Guzzardi – Attorney; Republican Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_yellow
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_red
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_red

“I am not tech savvy but there are resources available,” Bob Guzzardi said in his response to question 3 on how a potential Guzzardi administration would use information and technology to better connect with citizens. I commend him for his honesty, and I further appreciate that he wants to consult the media, business, and technology communities on what obstacles are present, what information/data is needed, and how how best to deliver it. Our elected officials do not all need to be experts in technology, nor should they be, but they should know when to reach out to experts and collaborate with the community.

Guzzardi specifically mentions “the campaign contribution website of the Department of State is cumbersome and difficult to use,” in question 1. I hope he also considers the need to mandate electronic filing of campaign finance reports (as mentioned above) in addition to improving the ways they are accessed. Additionally, it was interesting to hear of Guzzardi’s support of HB 1671, a bill which seeks to address concerns with public officials’ overuse of “executive sessions” instead of public meetings. In Guzzardi’s words, executive sessions are “one of the biggest abuses of ‘right to know’,” and he recommends requiring that they be recorded so judges can determine if they were legitimate after the fact.

Ken Krawchuk – Information Technology Consultant; Libertarian Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_yellow
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_red
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_red
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_red

“[I would] direct all state agencies sharing data to move beyond web sites to set up peer-to-peer sharing such as BitTorrent so that citizens can get cheap and rapid access to their data,” Krawchuk said in response to question 2. While I’m not sure how useful protocols like BitTorrent would be in accessing public datasets, it is nice to see that Krawchuk is aware of and considering other protocols for data access. Based on this, I think Krawchuk would understand the value of providing APIs in addition to bulk data downloads. In question 1, Krawchuk also suggested creating an open data petitions site for citizens to nominate specific datasets to be released. “Each month, the top ten citizen requests for data…would be expedited,” said Krawchuk. This idea sounds a lot like an open data specific version of petitions.whitehouse.gov, another powerful example of open government that’s come out in recent years.

While Krawchuk agrees with the Sunlight Foundation and others that “openness should be the default course,” (question 4) he is aware of how sticky the privacy concerns around open data can be in his answer to question 5, where he mentions that any location data about citizens “such as license-plate readers” should be restricted. These concerns have come up in data releases in the past, like Philadelphia’s part 1 crimes data.

Rob McCord – Treasurer of Pennsylvania; Democratic Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_green
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_red
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_yellow

“Expanding open data practices will be one of my information technology initiatives as governor,” said Rob McCord in response to question 1. McCord also made an explicit reference to having an open data policy if elected governor in question 6, and he was one of the few candidates to use the language of “transparency, participation, and collaboration” that has been a hallmark of the open government movement since President Obama’s original memorandum. Those are clear, unambiguous commitments and it’s great to see them.

This clarity is muddled somewhat by McCord’s focus on existing “platforms…on which to build and improve” such as the state’s e-contracts database that his Treasury department has administered, the PennWATCH website, and an “online performance management tool” that McCord claims the state Budget office provides but I was unable to find on their website. These are all good transparency applications, and I’m glad McCord understands their value. However, as I discussed with PennWATCH above, they are all fundamentally applications – not open data. As experts like Mark Headd have discussed before, governments should focus on stewarding and releasing data first and building applications themselves second.

Kathleen McGinty – Former Secretary of Environmental Protection; Democratic Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_green
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_green
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_yellow
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_yellow

“As Governor, I would select a member of my team to serve as a full-time Director of Open Data,” said Kathleen McGinty in her response to question 6. Creating such a position would be a wise choice; on the local level, it’s fairly clear Philadelphia would not have come as far as it has in open data had the position of Chief Data Officer not been created. A state Director of Open Data could have both the clout and nuanced, “big picture” view to effectively push for data releases internally that Philly CDO Mark Headd has had for the past couple of years. It’s also exciting to hear that McGinty is thinking about the “additional education regarding open data process / policies” that is often necessary in starting any open data program. Open data is as much about changing the culture of government departments around releasing data as it is about the information itself.

However, most of McGinty’s other answers center around an insistence that “the first step needed…is to audit and inventory all information that is available…before we can create and execute a plan to provide access [to open data],” (question 1). While a comprehensive inventory isn’t a bad thing to have, it does become a bad thing if the process of conducting one shifts focus away from and delays actual, tangible data releases. Pennsylvania does not need to complete a comprehensive inventory of all data in its possession (if even such an inventory is possible or practical) to start practicing open data principles. Specific, high-value datasets can be released as soon as resources are available to clean and vet them.

Allyson Schwartz – Congresswoman (PA-13); Democratic Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_yellow
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_yellow
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_red

“While Pennsylvania already accepts electronic submissions of campaign finance reports…electronic filing is not currently mandatory,” said Allyson Schwartz in response to question 3. As I’ve discussed above, paper campaign finance data is a problem, and it’s good to see it’s on Schwartz’s radar and she has a plan to make electronic filing mandatory. One distinctive idea Schwartz mentioned in her answers was that she plans to review and improve the Right to Know law and Sunshine act, and consider “a fuller inclusion of state-related universities” under them.

All of Schwartz’s answers are sound and in keeping with established open government data principles, but her responses were some of the shortest out of all the candidates. It would have been nice to hear more of her thinking and policy ideas on the subject of open data.

Tom Wolf – Chairman of the Wolf Organization; Democratic Party candidate

  • Supports openness as the proactive default? aa_governor_green
  • Would enact open data policy as governor? aa_governor_green
  • Would create open data position or office as governor? aa_governor_green
  • Proposes ways for citizen participation or collaboration with government through technology? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned civic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned economic impacts of open data? aa_governor_green
  • Mentioned government efficiency impacts of open data? aa_governor_green

“I will create an Office of Data Analysis and Program Management, which will help facilitate information sharing and improve collaboration between departments and agencies,” said Tom Wolf in his response to question 2. Commendably, Wolf’s thinking on open data is at the vanguard in this respect – open data not only benefits outside users, but it also can enhance collaboration within government agencies. This new office also sounds a lot like the “StateStat” program Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has implemented over the past few years. Because of it, Maryland is one of the few states to have an open data catalog.

Wolf was also the only one of the candidates to explicitly mention hackathons, in question 3: “I will work with our colleges and universities to sponsor hack-a-thons and develop apps that make datasets available to residents.” In the same answer, Wolf hints at the educational value and business potential of open data to attract and retain more high-tech companies in Pennsylvania.

Conclusions

If you were to judge only by my green checkmarks, Tom Wolf has the most comprehensive plan for advancing state open data in Pennsylvania. He would create a policy, an office to help manage it, suggests ways for the state to collaborate with citizens and the community through hackathons and other avenues, and he was the only candidate to explicitly mention the civic, economic, and government efficiency impacts and benefits to open data.

Judging these candidates and their responses only by my checkmarks would be a mistake, however. Most of them proposed really interesting, nuanced ideas around what specific datasets could be more open (eg, campaign finance records), ways to approach the issue of open data (eg, inventories, collaboration with external communities, dataset nominations, BitTorrent, etc), and other areas. “Openness” is a hard-to-define concept, and it lends itself to a multitude of interpretations and ideas. I also see in these responses some misunderstandings from the candidates about what exactly “open data” is. (The PennWATCH website, though a good-faith attempt, should not be held up as a good example of open data.) It’s for these reasons that our group wanted to send a questionnaire: to tease out a diversity of proposals, get the issue of “open data” on the candidates’ and voters’ minds, and help to educate everyone on the best practices out there for what is a powerful but relatively little-known issue.

I hope the candidates – and the members of the public and potential users of open data across the state – consider the possible merits of all these ideas. The best plan, as the saying goes, is somewhere in the middle.

Thanks!

Many people were involved in this effort, including (but not limited to!) Casey Canfield, Bob Gradeck, and Gabe McMorland on the Pittsburgh side; and Chris Alfano, Mark Headd, and myself on the Philadelphia side. While I’m happy to have been involved, there’s no question this has been a Pittsburgh-led effort and Casey, Bob, and Gabe deserve a lot of credit. Thanks are also due to the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association’s Government Affairs staff and their interest in helping us with a link to our questionnaire on their site.

2014 Summer of Maps Fellows Announced

We are thrilled to announce the 2014 Summer of Maps fellows and the non-profit organizations they will work with.  Please join me in congratulating:

Tim St. Onge, M.S. Candidate, Geographic Information Science for Development and Environment, Clark University, working with:

  • DataHaven - Analyzing The Relationships Between Neighborhood Indicators In The Greater New Haven And Valley Region

  • Community Design Collaborative – Using Spatial Analysis to Prioritize Design Grants in Philadelphia

Amory Hillengas, Masters of Urban Spatial Analytics, Community and Economic Development concentration, University of Pennslyvania working with:

  • GirlStart - Analysis Of Funding Resources And Program Adoption Of Girlstart In Central Texas

  • City Harvest - Analysis of Retail Food Access in Low Income Communities to Measure Need for and Impact of City Harvest Programming

Jenna Glat, B.A.  in Geography and Spanish, Colgate University, working with:

 

We are very excited to work with our 2014 Summer of Maps fellows and support them through their work with these nonprofits.

Fellowship Sponsors

We are also enormously grateful to the following organizations for sponsoring the 2014 Summer of Maps Program:

            

          

These generous sponsorships have enabled us to continue this very important program.

The United States of Social Media Part II: This Time It’s Partisan

A few months ago, I researched how many state legislators had social media accounts and which social media platforms they were most likely to use.

That post focused on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and found that 46% of all state legislators have an account on at least one of these platforms, with Facebook being the most used of the three. As a follow-up, I decided to look at whether one of the two major parties was more likely to have social media accounts than the other.

My first assumption was that Democrats, being more popular with younger voters, would be more likely to have social media accounts. As I entered more social media data into the Cicero API database, I discovered that Republicans more than held their own on this front. After we entered more data into Cicero I started to believe that Republicans might actually have more social media accounts than Democrats. I readjusted my expectations, but this was all assumption. It made me curious enough, though, to further explore the data and see if either of my hunches might be correct.

As it turns out, the data indicate that in both the upper and lower chambers of state legislatures, Republicans and Democrats hold almost identical patterns in their social media account membership.

Overall, nearly half of all Republicans and Democrats (48% and 47% respectively) have an account with one of the three major social media players that I was studying.

All Social Media Upper Chambers

Image 1

In the upper chambers, 51% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats have at least one account. Nearly 3 in 10 in each party (27% of Republicans and 28% of Democrats) use only one platform. That drops to 2 in 10 (21% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats) when it comes to using two platforms. Only a small number of legislators use all three platforms: 3% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats.

All Social Media Lower Chambers

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In the lower chambers, the similarities continue. Forty-seven percent of Republicans and 45% of Democrats have at least one social media account. Again, nearly 3 in 10 in both parties (28% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats) have an account with only one platform. That drops to 16% of Republicans and 13% of Democrats using two platforms. Again, only a small number of legislators use all three platforms: 3% of Republicans and 2% of Democrats.

Upper Chambers with Facebook

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The parties show similar account ownership when it comes to each platform as well. In the upper chambers, 44% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats have Facebook accounts.

Upper Chambers with Facebook

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While in the lower chambers, 41% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats have Facebook accounts.

Upper Chambers with Twitter

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The Twitter data tells a similar story: 30% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats in the upper chambers have Twitter accounts.

Lower Chambers with Twitter

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While in the lower chambers, 20% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats have Twitter accounts.

Upper Chambers with YouTube

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Only 5% percent of Republicans and Democrats in their states’ upper chambers have YouTube accounts.

Lower Chambers with YouTube

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In the lower chambers, 7% of Republicans and 3% of of Democrats have YouTube accounts.

The data hammer the same point home: both parties are using social media in almost the exact same fashion. It doesn’t matter if I look at the upper or the lower chambers, or if I tease the data out to specific social media platforms. In just about every circumstance, the results are mind numbingly similar.

We are continuing to add more social media data into the Cicero API Database, and will start tracking sites like Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. My gut tells me that LinkedIn will take over YouTube as the third most used social media account in our data, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.