Updates from the Open Data program

Today, the Open Data team and all who contribute to the Open Data program here at the City of Seattle are proud to share updates on our accomplishments in 2017, provide more details about the work we will do throughout 2018, and let you know about a new look for our Open Data program website!


2017 Annual Report:

The “2017 Annual Report” (link) highlights the large volumes of new open data that we pushed onto our open data portal (https://data.seattle.gov) in 2017.

76 datasets resulting in 130 million rows of new data were added to our platform, empowering the public with additional rich sources of data. The report also highlights the many other accomplishments of the dedicated City staff who help identify, create and release high-value datasets onto our open data platform.


2018 Open Data Plan:

The “2018 Open Data Plan” (link) gives a detailed overview of the work that the Open Data team will complete in 2018, with work on the top priorities well under way!

  1. Improve how our City departments release open data
  2. Make our Open Data more accessible to the public
  3. Implement recommendations from assessments of our Open Data program
  4. Make continuous quality improvements to our Open Data platform
  5. Improve our usage of data to identify high-value open datasets


We plan to build on the progress made in 2017 to enable our departments to release more datasets that update automatically, remove/update stale datasets and continue to improve our metadata quality, and increase our efforts to make our open data more accessible to the public – through visualizations, storytelling and enabling additional ways for the public to avail of our open data through systems already familiar to them.


Updated Open Data program page:

We have updated our website (https://seattle.gov/opendata) to make it easier for the public to access key information related to the Open Data program, such as our Annual Report and Open Data plan.


Special thanks to all members of the Open Data Champions network who represent all departments at the City of Seattle, it is through their hard work that we have so many rich datasets to share with the public.

Expect more updates from the Open Data team throughout 2018 as we move forward with delivering upon our 2018 Open Data plan!


Contact details:


Facebook hackathon applied Machine Learning to our Open Data platform

In October, Facebook held a civic hackathon, inviting in-house engineers as well as representatives from other tech companies to apply machine learning to our open data platform (http://data.seattle.gov) to solve problems.

(If you don’t know what machine learning is, here is a great primer: http://www.r2d3.us/visual-intro-to-machine-learning-part-1. In machine learning, computers apply statistical learning techniques to automatically identify patterns in data. These techniques can be used to make highly accurate predictions, and these are the techniques that the hackathon participants applied to our open data platform).

Two projects were deemed to be the winning efforts, one focused on issues related to parking and another focused on helping the public get contractor estimates when they want to undertake a major construction or remodeling project.

On Thursday October 26th, the two winning teams were invited to speak at the monthly “Breakfast of Champions” meeting, and share their project ideas and prototypes with over 40 City staff who act as Open Data Champions across all City departments. The aim was to spur new ideas for future uses of machine learning within the City and for the relevant departments to connect directly with the winning teams.

Find n’ Park team

The first project, “Find ‘n Park”, tackled the problem of Seattleites spending a lot of time searching for open parking spaces. Seattle is ranked as one of the hardest places to find a parking spot amongst large US cities; and currently there is no way to get good data on the availability of parking in lots or for on-street parking. Find ‘n Park used deep learning vision models to determine how many cars are currently parked in a particular lot, to give real-time availability of parking. You can find more details on this project here: https://github.com/raghakot/facebook-hackathon

The second project, “Contractor 5”, tackled the problem of looking for a building contractor and quickly getting a realistic cost estimate for new construction or remodels of existing properties. The Contractor 5 tool models the estimated price to complete a project by to within $5,000 by leveraging City permitting (open) data and using natural language processing to compare your project description with similar projects. It greatly simplifies getting an estimate and increases market transparency. You can find more details on this project here: https://github.com/FBMLHACK2017/Contractorfive

Contractor 5 team

Both presentations evoked many questions and follow up interactions between City staff and the winning teams, and gave our Open Data Champs a great insight into the power of ML and how powerful applications could be quickly developed using the open data they are providing. These presentations also provided us with a lot of food for thought re: our 2018 Open Data Plan, especially when it comes to potential investments in using ML to power applications and services, or powering AI scenarios.

Special thanks to the Facebook staff who helped organize this event – Aria Haghighi, Lindsay Amos and SarahBeth Donaghy. We hope this is the first of many partnership interactions!


Civic Metadata Standards and their usage within our Open Data Program

Earlier this year, we redesigned our open data portal and wrote a blog post at that time outlining the updates we made and the rationale behind them. In that blog post, we spoke to some of the related work we would be doing regarding making improvements to the metadata of our datasets.

As part of that work, Nina Showell who is a Masters Candidate from UW iSchool, spent 10 weeks over this summer working within the Open Data team as part of an Open Data Literacy (ODL) project, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Over the course of her internship, Nina developed a “Policy Analysis of Civic Metadata Standards and Implications for the City of Seattle Open Data Program” (available here). In this report, she analyzed the work of seven cities who were some of the original pioneers in the US municipal open data movement (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle) and their usage of civic metadata standards.

Focusing specifically on the Seattle Open Data program, she developed a set of key recommendations based on our current usage of civic metadata standards, and how we might implement those within our Open Data program in the future. We expect to include some work streams related to these metadata recommendations into our 2018 Open Data Plan.

Nina also wrote a series of blog posts charting the progress of her work over the 10 weeks, which you can access here.

In the coming months, we in the Open Data team will blog about the ongoing work we’ve been doing regarding metadata improvements within our existing datasets on our open data platform. Again, Nina’s work will help inform some of our decision making regarding this project.

In closing, we would like to thank Nina for her fantastic contributions to our Open Data program this summer, and her project sponsor Prof. Nic Weber from the UW iSchool. Additionally, we would like to thank the staff from the cities of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco who very kindly and generously provided us with fantastic insights into their usage of civic metadata standards and helped shaped this report.


A new look for our Open Data portal | data.seattle.gov

In our 2017 Open Data Plan, we identified five main priorities for the work we wished to accomplish this year. Priority number three is to “Increase the discoverability of our Open Data to the public”, and we are excited to announce the availability of a key deliverable that addresses that priority.

Today, we are updating our Open Data portal, http://data.seattle.gov, with a new design that will make it easier for our residents to interact with the many high value open datasets that our City Departments provide via our Open Data program.

One of the key drivers of this change was the fact that around 25% of the people accessing our open data portal did so from mobile devices, and our old design was not optimized for mobile experiences. Additionally, we have received ongoing feedback from our residents that the old site was hard to navigate, and hard for people to find what they were looking for. We are confident that this new design will greatly improve both of those experiences.

Old Design:

New Design:

While this site update is a very visible sign of our progress, it is important to note that we have more work that we will be doing throughout 2017 to improve our open data discoverability even further. Today, we silo data by City Departments – in the coming months we plan to change this to align to the 19 services that the City currently describes on http://seattle.gov and point people to open data related to those services instead. We feel this is a better approach, both to point our residents to open data in ways they are already familiar with, and it helps our City Departments think about how future open dataset releases can be aligned towards Services and involve multi-departmental partnerships.

Additionally, we are working on projects that will help improve our usage of metadata, both within new datasets we will publish as well as updating existing datasets on our platform. By improving the contextual information we supply with our open datasets, we will make it easier for our residents to find the data they are looking for – either directly on our portal or via search engines such as Google. We will share more details on those projects later in 2017.


City of Seattle’s Open Data Program releases its 2016 Annual Report and 2017 Open Data Plan

Today the Seattle Open Data Program has published its 2016 Annual Report as well as its 2017 Open Data Plan. As this is the first time the City has released either of these publications, it marks an important step forward in the maturation of our Open Data Program.

The Open Data Program makes the data generated by the City of Seattle openly available to the public for the purpose of increasing the quality of life for our residents; increasing transparency, accountability and comparability; promoting economic development and research; and improving internal performance management.

Seattle is home to an engaged, innovative public that wants to make the city a better place to live. As a City, we strive to make our data open to the public, enabling those outside of government to find solutions to our most pressing civic challenges.

The 2016 Annual Report highlights the significant progress made in embedding the Open Data Program within the City of Seattle since the signing of the Mayor’s “Open by Preference” Executive Order (2016-01). Currently 33 City departments have designated an Open Data Champion who is responsible for facilitating the release of datasets deemed valuable to the community. In 2016, the Program published 146 new datasets — far exceeding the program’s initial goal of 50 new datasets.

The 2017 Open Data Plan identifies the key priorities that will build on that success, increasing the data made publicly available to encourage development of innovative solutions that improve our quality of life, while also increasing the ability of City departments to use those data to make informed decisions. The priorities outlined in Seattle’s 2017 Open Data Plan align closely with Mayor Murray’s vision to make 2017 the year of good governance.

Both the 2016 Annual Report and 2017 Open Data Plan can be found via http://seattle.gov/opendata.