Seattle Aims to Unleash the Power of Open Data Through Hackathon and New City Strategy

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell sharing the One Seattle Data Strategy at an open data hackathon on Dec. 14, 2023.

The City of Seattle has a trove of internal data collected by more than two dozen departments. But if that information is inaccessible, of poor quality, or people don’t know how to analyze it, it can’t do much good.

To address this issue, Mayor Bruce Harrell recently issued the One Seattle Data Strategy, a comprehensive plan to optimize the city’s use of data to inform decision making, improve collaboration, protect privacy, foster public access, and standardize best practices across departments.

To highlight the importance of open data, the city last week hosted a public hackathon in which participants used currently available open data to build a dashboard or visualization to illustrate city programs or services.

The event was held at Tableau Software’s headquarters in Seattle and hosted by its parent company Salesforce. Ten teams and 58 people participated in the hackathon.

The winning project came from Team Bun Bun and featured a data visualization that layered multifamily building permit data onto the city’s Race and Social Equity Index Map. The map identifies census tracts with the highest priority for equity efforts, and the visualization revealed that, in fact, the highest priority areas received the largest number of housing building permits from late 2020 to this month.

Team Bun Bun, winner of the City of Seattle’s City’s first open data hackathon. (City of Seattle Photo)

Team Bun Bun formed at the event and included University of Washington students, Seattle Public Libraries staff, and other community members.

Team Bun Bun’s Wanwei Huang is pursuing a master’s degree in data science from the UW and had been working with city data for a course project. The hackathon was a chance to dig deeper.

“It is meaningful to collect data and to provide residents with a way to explore and improve the city on their own,” Huang said. Residents know best what kinds of changes are needed in their communities, she added, and access to data can bolster their requests to city leadership.

Teammate Aaron Ferguson, who holds a master’s degree in epidemiology from the UW, echoed that idea.

“I am a big believer in the power of accessible knowledge and research to help make decisions about critical topics, such as housing and racial and social equity,” Ferguson said.

Coming in second at the hackathon was Team PSRC Data, which used data on the median number of days it took to receive a permit for building housing and merged it with the city’s Racial and Social Equity Priority Areas. The team’s app included separate data visualizations for single family and multi-family developments by unit size.

Team PSRC Data was comprised mostly of staff from the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Data visualization of wait times for building permits for multifamily housing with 10-20 units. The app won second place at Seattle’s recent open data hackathon.

Event judges were Jim Loter, interim City of Seattle chief technology officer; Janis Jordan, City of Seattle innovation and performance evaluation advisor; and Matt Coles, Tableau senior product manager.

Harrell has issued an executive order instructing all city departments to enact the One Seattle Data Strategy, saying that doing so “will increase the City’s capacity to communicate data in a way that is accessible, relevant and usable for the public by strategically re-imagining Seattle’s open data resources.”

The strategy will roll out over three years and represents the city’s first comprehensive effort to address open data issues. The guidance is a product of Seattle’s participation in the Bloomberg Philanthropies City Data Alliance. The philanthropy selected the city for the initiative, which assisted multiple municipalities in improving their use of data.

The One Seattle Data Strategy includes numerous examples of how the city is using data to drive programs and policies and serve the public. They include:

  • Creation of the interactive Winter Weather Response Map, which provides near real-time information from the Seattle Department of Transportation regarding road treatments during icy, snowy conditions.
  • A pilot project for digitally recording, tracking and communicating curbside use and policies, which addresses demands for parking and loading zones for deliveries and for-hire vehicles.
  • Mapping tools for managing Seattle’s urban forests, including maintenance needs and data on tree species and impacts from pests, disease and climate change.
  • An analysis across departments by the Unified Care Team looking at public safety, hygiene, trash removal, open parks and accessible rights of way as they relate to homelessness.

 Lisa Stiffler is a reporter and editor covering local efforts to use technology to solve environmental, health, societal and other do-gooder challenges. Follow @lisa_stiffler

– Published courtesy of  GeekWire.

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