Criteria checklists for getting started with TDE

In Sunlight’s Tactical Data Engagement 1.0 guide, we outline the 4-step method that guides cities and government officials in facilitating the community use of open data. The first step of the method is to Find a focus area rich with opportunities for community use of open data to drive local impact. This resource will help you determine how to get started with TDE by outlining the suggested criteria for using each Finding tactic.

Figuring out how to get started with a major initiative can be challenging, so we developed this criteria document to help you sort through which Finding tactic for getting started might be best for you. Below are five of Sunlight’s favorite tactics for finding focus areas where community members might benefit from using open data. For each tactic, we provide a description, a hypothetical example, and list of criteria to help identify what you have or need to get started with TDE.

Tactics & checklists:

Analyze data/information requests

In using this tactic, identify your data or information that is most requested and/or used, and later you may reach out to requesters/users to refine community use opportunities. If you’re not sharing data online, using this tactic would include analyzing request channels like public records request systems. If you’re already sharing data online, this approach might include a review of most viewed, downloaded, or requested datasets.

EX. The majority of the requests for public information that are sent to the planning department are for basic zoning, land use, and other parcel information. Can the city identify what users are doing with parcel information (as it relates to improving the community) and facilitate more direct data-sharing or product development to support those specific use cases?

This tactic will work well in places with:

  • An electronic records request systemand/or structured records request data
  • An open data portaland data on usage/demand (dataset views/downloads)
  • An open data portal with an API, and contact info/usage data for those registered for API keys
  • A well-used system for informal requestsfor data (such as an open data portal with a “request a dataset” form)
  • Structured data containing other kinds of public feedbackrelevant to information flows: 311 data, service requests, other complaint data, etc.

Identify most valuable partners:

You may start finding and refining opportunities to encourage open data’s re-use by exploring existing partnerships with community actors. If you are already investing in a non-profit (or for-profit) with funding, by contract, grant, staff time, formal, or informal partnership, that investment might be further leveraged through intentional data sharing aimed at helping those partners use city data.

EX. A city has partnered with a local housing advocacy group to reduce lead paint and resultant lead poisoning in the community by contracting with this non-profit to get the word out to residents to sign up for lead abatement resources available. The housing advocacy group is charged with targeting outreach and assistance to neighborhoods, tenants, and properties that are most at risk, however, they don’t have access to the city’s data, or, perhaps they do, but don’t know how to use it to target the most at-risk households.

This tactic will work well in places with:

  • Existing partnerships with community non-profits that might benefit from reuse of city data
  • Contracts with vendorsto perform public functions that might be improved with a data-driven approach
  • MOUs, grant awards, contract documents, or other relevant documentation of existing partnership
  • Community actor leading a project to reuse city data who demonstrates interest to the city/What Works Cities

Seek out shared priorities:

You may have strategic goals that are a core aspect of how a department does its work or are a priority for the current administration. These goals are in the public interest and are therefore typically shared by community stakeholders and other organizations outside of government that also work in the public interest. You can identify stakeholders with shared goals and challenges and engage them through events like data walks, open houses, or roundtables to scope out a specific re-use opportunity that serves the community. This tactic may be increasingly valuable in cities with strong communications or outreach departments.

EX. The city has a strategic goal of redeveloping vacant or abandoned properties for productive use in a specific neighborhood. The city realizes that this goal is shared by the Community Development Corporations (CDCs), the Neighborhood Business Association, homeowners, and the real estate community. Can city hall gather these partners through a public event like a data walk to discuss data supply, city strategic goals, and pressing community goals? Can the city frame the shared challenge of revitalizing abandoned property specifically by helping communities re-use city data? (see Chicago Large Lots)

This tactic will work well in places with:

  • Specific strategic priorities relevant to external stakeholders
  • Knowledge of external stakeholders with similar strategic priorities
  • Desire to collaborate closely with these external stakeholders

Cities and other governments regularly engage with the public for specific projects like neighborhood redevelopment plans or as part of ongoing meeting series’ like city council meetings or zoning review. Open data is typically disconnected from these existing community engagement processes, but incorporating discussion about open data at these meetings help identify opportunities for community use of open data.

EX. The city planning department is holding a series of public meetings to discuss a proposed “complete streets” plan and streetscape improvement project. Neighborhood residents, as well as organizational stakeholders are attending these meetings to provide input, but are not currently using city data to inform that input. Can the city connect with attendees to identify, explore and frame opportunities to facilitate reuse of relevant city data—like accident data, street dimensions, traffic counts, bike infrastructure data, existing street amenities and locations, etc.—as part of this standing convening?

This tactic will work well in places with:

  • Standing public meetings with regular, high attendance
  • Existing communication channels where the city collects resident feedback
  • Relevant data not currently sharedat public meetings
  • “Regulars” in attendance at council meetings, zoning meetings, etc.
  • Department staff dedicated to community engagement or outreach

Map impactful focus areas:

Sometimes, datasets held by data providers are already known to present a clear opportunity for driving impact on certain issues of interest because the data has been used publicly to address issues in other cities or places. If there are datasets that you hold that are not shared, or are shared but not used, but that have had demonstrated success in other places, examining those opportunities and aligning them with your goals may be a good first step in identifying a focus area for the community use of open data.

EX. The city purchasing office has an internal database that includes bid proposals and winning bids for all city contracts. Based on projects observed elsewhere the purchasing officer knows that contractors can benefit from access to this high-value information, ultimately improving the quality and pricing of goods and services provided to city hall (and the value to residents). The city identifies an open data reuse opportunity and frames a reuse scenario based on these existing examples.

This tactic will work well in cities with:

  • Interest in replicating a successful project involving reuse of public data
  • High quality public data relevant to a proven reuse scenario available for release or already released via an existing open data portal
  • Internal data/tech capacity to nimbly adapt data to public needs

What’s Next?

Through 2017, Sunlight will be piloting these tactics with What Works Cities and recording best practices for how to implement TDE tactics, including adding to and refining this resource. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get started with TDE, or have experience with one of these tactics and would like to reach out, drop us a line at or find us on Twitter at @sunfoundation.

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