City to Release Data-Driven Website April 1, Many More Documents Online | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City to Release Data-Driven Website April 1, Many More Documents Online

The front page of the City's new "transparency" website will include data sets focusing on some of the most pressing issues in the minds of Jackson citizens, including infrastructure repairs. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

The front page of the City's new "transparency" website will include data sets focusing on some of the most pressing issues in the minds of Jackson citizens, including infrastructure repairs. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

— The City of Jackson is planning to open the doors to its data vaults, promising a new and deep information-driven vehicle for citizens to explore the municipal records and resources that currently can take weeks, or even months, to receive, if at all.

This vehicle is a website funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies' project "What Works Cities," a national movement to "help 100 mid-sized American cities enhance their use of data and evidence to improve services, inform local decision-making and engage residents."

The website has been in development for months, and on April 1 the public will be able to access such information as public-works developments and crime statistics with updated information pulled directly from the City's internal information structure.

"It is not open to the public until April 1," the City's Director of Innovation and Performance Justin Bruce said at a transparency committee meeting Monday morning. "But on April 1, the public will be able to go here, and they will be able to see all of the data sets that we are able to get in over the next couple of weeks."

"Our citizens will be able to see in real time the process and progress of our capital projects," Bruce said. "I think that we can all agree that our citizens are going to like seeing that."

"But for our initial processes we want to make sure we get the best public data out there that we possibly can, so people can begin to make their own judgments based on what they are seeing, and not what they are seeing in blurbs or snippets."

The website is the landing point for all sorts of datasets that already exist within the structure of the city government. Certain types of software enable the site to "crawl" through the data on a regular basis and update the website with little to no input from a city employee. This, Bruce said, means that the information will be up-to-date and transparent.

A small committee made up of City department administrators and the Jackson city clerk met today to create a priority list of data sets the public would likely seek first. Bruce distributed a list of 50 data sources, from the municipal court to the Public Safety Department, and asked those present to rank them and return the lists to him. Those given the most importance will be uploaded first to the website for its launch, allowing Bruce to release a "dense" site full of information.

One dataset that Bruce repeatedly brought up as an example was the several concurrent infrastructure improvement projects happening across the city, such as Operation Orange Cone. This system, when it goes live, will allow citizens to be able to track the progress work crews make in the city as they finish sections of roads. That particular section of data, while not updated in real time, would erase a vacuum of information between the city and the public.

Jackson City Clerk Kristi Moore said during the meeting that not only would this system help her respond to public-records requests faster, but it would also solve problems her office faces when retrieving information from other departments.

"This is very, very helpful to us," Moore said. "It will make us not hound you guys so much about a request because the data is already out there."

"That's what people want, where they just go in and pick it up, where they don't have to wait seven days."

"I think eventually that this will make everybody's job easier. The most important thing, to me, is feeling that the data is true."

Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at tim@jacksonfreepress.com. Read more reporting on government transparency at jfp.ms/sunshine. See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews.

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