Building a case for open data competitions

If you don’t know why open data is important, our recent experiences in Cambridge, Massachusetts should help make the case.

In our first community Challenge last fall, Open Data Nation asked residents of Cambridge, Massachusetts to propose solutions for how they would make streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers -- and that’s exactly what they did.

Armed with open, public data about traffic crashes hosted on Cambridge’s Open Data Portal, the Civic Challenge competition produced eight impressive solutions that included data visualizations, statistical analysis, and web applications created by participants ranging from MIT engineers to unemployed tech enthusiasts.  

But it was a public high school student who achieved one of the evening's highest honors. Ethan, a ninth-grader at Pembroke High School, used open data to rethink how bike lanes can protect cyclists, including those going to school.  

Intrigued by his solution and his decision to participate, City administrators at the event wondered: Why would someone like Ethan choose to take part in an Open Data Nation Civic Challenge?


Ethan explains his solution.


Ethan’s response was simple and eloquent -- he really cares about transportation and he'd never had the opportunity to work with real data in ways that could actually make a difference.

Today, two months later, the Challenge solutions continue to have real impact. The Neighborhood Long Term Planning Commission of the City of Cambridge recently heard testimony from participants about the importance of open data and are considering new legislation that would sustain the city's commitment to using open data in the coming years.  

The City of Cambridge's Open Data Nation Challenge gave participants a way to make the city work better. It's opportunities to hear from people like Ethan that make Open Data Nation Challenges truly valuable for city governments and the communities they serve.



Missed the Street Safety policy workshop?


The Street Safety Challenge was organized by Open Data Nation and sponsored by the City of Cambridge, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT Senseable City Lab, MIT Center for Civic Media, and the Lab for Regional Innovation and Spatial Analysis.