I am a firm believer in the public being able to access data that it is paying for through taxes (with the exception of sensitive data). That being said, having access to civic data is imperative to the ability to check and balance our government(s). Technically Philly has an article about a civic hacker who requested a data set from Philadelphia Traffic Court because he wanted to analyze the data to look for cases where violations were pleaded down to lesser charges/fines. He was told that it would cost $11,000 for the consulting firm in charge of the server where the data was hosted to make a specialized data dump. Pennsylvania has a “Right To Know” law on the books but Philadelphia’s court system has their own public access policy which allows it to pass the cost of the unique data pull onto the requester. So in essence, the court system is making data difficult to access by imposing a fee.
Any thoughts on this topic?
Here’s the story.
Finding sources of open data can be a little cumbersome because there are so many ways to find data. There are a lot of websites that house data. For instance, let’s say that you are looking for data on the bike routes in Philadelphia. One place you can look at is Open Data Philly which is a portal that provides access Philadelphia based data sets, APIs, and applications. You can search amongst the over 170 datasets or even submit or nominate a dataset to be included on the site. A quick search on the site shows that there are 6 datasets related to biking ranging from bike rack locations to commuting routes. Many large cities and counties are have websites where they store open data for their municipalities.
Here are some sites for local/federal government data:
Philadelphia: Open Data Philly
New York City: NYC Open Data
Boston: City of Boston
District of Columbia: Open Data Catalog
U.S. Government: Data.gov
Recently a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page a link to a free course on QGIS, a free open-sourced GIS software package. I was so excited to see this as I have been really interested in this software but haven’t been able to find a tutorial for it. I tried to find some stuff on YouTube there was nothing there that would help out a new user. This course is being offered by Canvas By Instructure, a start-up founded in 2008 that colleges and universities use to offer online classes. I signed up for the Q-GIS course which is at your own pace. I liked this idea because it’s hard for me to juggle assignments with all that i have going on in my everyday life. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it goes. For more info go to GIS Lounge a really cool site that keeps GIS users up-to-date on everything going on in the GIS world.
One of the things that I have been meaning to work is visualizing data for this blog. I am a visual person and I find it easier to look at a graph or map than stare at a report. Luckily, there are a lot of sites that cater to the data visualization crowd. The one that I plan on testing is called Tableau Public (the free one) version is 8.2. Tableau is a data visualization software that allows you to use Excel spreadsheets, Access databases or text files to produce charts, graphs and maps that can be added to the web. I have yet to try it out. I am still at the stage of watching the introductory YouTube videos. Once I get it up and running, I’ll post my progress under the Projects portion on the blog. If you have used Tableau before please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear the plus and minuses of your experience.
One of the most overlooked places to go to get assistance for data for your research is the public library. With the popularity if the internet, people sometimes forget about the utilizing their local public library as a resource. I always promote libraries to clients because they have access to things that you may not find online. All you really need is a library card and you can take advantage of tools that are paid for by your tax dollars. Also, business /non-profit librarians are subject matter experts, they can show you how to use the library to your advantage. They can grant you access to databases/magazine that need subscriptions and many offer free workshops and bring in guest speakers. So check out your neighborhood library and stop by the reference desk and strike up a conversation with the librarian. It’s like sitting with a consultant for free. Now who doesn’t like that!
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