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New Software to Make Santa Monica Data Easier to Access

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By Ivette Lopez for The Lookout

July 24, 2014 -- Starting next month, the City of Santa Monica will launch new software that allows users to pinpoint everything from crime on their blocks to projects that will improve their streets.

The software offers users access to information from 25 different databases, allowing them to isolate, group and compare the data in order to analyze and even project trends, according to City officials.

These “datasets” will further be organized and publicly available in six categories -- Finance, Permits and Licenses, Public Assets, Public Safety, Public Services and Transportation.

 “We are giving data the City has in a way that is useful,” said Gigi Decavalles, the City’s director of finance and treasurer. “This goes along with our efforts to make the City information as transparent as possible.”

The datasets will contain information that the City Attorney reviews closely and approves for publishing, City officials said. Only information that violates the privacy of residents, City staff, public safety and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act will be excluded.

The software Socrata, which costs around $35,000 a year, was chosen because it’s easy to use and allows third party programmers to create their own data visualizations. The software gives users the option to create a personal login to save or publish bar graphs, charts and other ways to present data.

The program is still accessible without login credentials without the option to save their work directly onto the program.

Web Development Manager Behrang Abadi hopes the new software will prompt residents to fully engage in government.

“I hope this software increases citizen engagement and helps people understand government and get involved,” said Abadi.

Residents who know little about programming can still access data visualizations through the second software provided by the city -- OpenGov. The program, which will cost the City about $10,000, provides residents with interactive charts and graphs that visualize budget and monetary data they obtain on Socrata.

OpenGov will also allow users to compare data in a way not available through budget reports, City officials said. Residents will be able to compare year-to-year and future expenditures by charting trends in the budget.

It’s not the first time the City has made it easier to access public data. Last year, the City made datasets, charts, graphs and maps available as PDFs for download following President Barack Obama’s executive order to make government data open and “machine readable.”

Abadi says the access to instant data will help residents obtain answers to frequently asked questions about salaries and catalogs of maps that already exist in PDF formats online. However, he says users will have more control over the information and visuals than in the current formats provided by the City.

OpenGov and Socrata are currently used by the federal government and other cities nationwide including New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Calabasas, Davis, Monterey, Culver City, and Riverside.

“Data is becoming more and more important to people,” said Decavalles. “I think residents and citizens of any city these days are more savvy.”

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