Open Data is all about sharing information with the public to allow for greater engagement and collaboration between city hall and community. Implicit in the launch of a city hall’s open data initiative is the hope that residents will use data to keep informed, provide better feedback to their government, or even build useful civic tools. But none of this is possible if residents aren’t engaged.
Public engagement is tricky. There is no one size fits all approach to determine the means of engagement that will work best in the unique context of a community. It may be necessary to experiment with multiple formats for civic interaction and feedback gathering, particularly when dealing with a topic like open data where members of the community may have vastly differing levels of familiarity and comfort. The following represent a few common approaches.
1. Public Meetings
Public meetings can be held in different parts of the city and at different times of the day. Meetings should be structured to encourage or require participants to engage with one another directly by working in small groups or indirectly by posting responses during the course of the meeting.
example: Montgomery County, MD Open Data Town Halls
example: Sunlight sample agendas for external stakeholder engagement
2. Online and paper surveys
Surveys allow community members to participate at their convenience. Although many will choose to complete the survey online, paper surveys can be distributed through a number of mechanisms: public libraries, public events, and city hall.
example: Jackson, MS Open Data Community Survey
example: San Jose, CA Open Data Community Survey
Online forums and comments
Online forums and comment sections are another way for community members to participate at their convenience. It also allows for members to communicate with the city and one another.
Further Reading on Hackathons
“Civic Innovation Toolkit: How to run a civic hackathon” by Christopher Whitaker
“How to Run a Successful Hackathon” by Josh Taberer
“So You Think You Want to Run a Hackathon? Think Again” by Laurenellen McCann