Investigative, Journalism, Multimedia, Storytelling — August 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Hackers Records Tell a Story


Mapping where the most bike accidents occur is Chicago is one use of public data.
Mapping where the most bike accidents occur is Chicago is one use of public data.
Hackers have a digital story to tell in Chicago.

The digital story? Dear citizen, we are hacking your public records. Well, not for credit card numbers or government secrets. Instead, this effort is something you might like. It is for the public good.

Hackers, doing something good? Well, yes.

Chicago, that city by the lake known more for its political corruption than open government, has become something of a test-lab for how to use hackers’ programming know-how to help the public.

Hackers are writing apps allowing Windy City residents search millions of pages of records to find data on abandoned cars, do an analysis on the city’s new bike sharing program or find out what wards have the most potholes. Using software programs, the data is charted, mapped and catalogued. Personally identifiable information is stripped out.

Last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. signed an order mandating that Chicago make all public documents available online. Chicago currently has nearly 950 data sets publicly available – more than any U.S. city, according to Code for America, a non-profit that promotes open government

Other cities are following Chicago’s lead. Codes for America has fellows in 10 cities from South Bend to Louisville, reports the Wall Street Journal. The goal is to place programming volunteers in cities of all sizes that want to make better use of civic data.

“The bottom line is all this data belongs to the public,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg told the Journal. “It’s not costly and it’s not a radical policy shift.”

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