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Herron hosts data-sharing unveiling

December 1, 2015

Exploring Think It Make It laboratory

Herron faculty member Aaron Ganci, foreground, seated in the school's Think It Make It Lab, demonstrates the Indianapolis Regional Data Portal he helped launch. | LIZ KAYE / IU COMMUNICATIONS

During a press conference held at Herron School of Art and Design, the mayors of four Central Indiana cities announced the launching of what is believed to be the nation's first regional open-data sharing project.

The Indianapolis Regional Data Portal will provide the public with user-friendly Internet access to open government records and documents containing information such as crime statistics, municipal meeting minutes and building-code violations.

The initiative is expected to help advance economic development as well as improve public safety within the region as cities share raw data that can be harnessed for insight and best practices to enhance communities and services.

About 40 community, government, business and educational leaders were on hand as Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Greenwood Mayor Mark W. Myers and Zionsville Mayor Jeff Papa signed an initiative proclamation. After the signing, the four mayors and others in attendance participated in a demonstration of the portal on computers in the Herron Think It Make It Lab.

"Open civic data is a prime space for innovations that will improve our lives and communities by engaging the public and firing imaginations, and designers are uniquely positioned to visually communicate open data to the public," said Herron Dean Valerie Eickmeier, who talked about the school's open-data curriculum at the Nov. 16 press conference.

Under assistant professor Aaron Ganci, Herron senior visual communication design students are working on a project requiring them to visualize open data sets in more useful/desirable ways so citizens can use them.

Herron was chosen as the site for the press conference because of Ganci's campus work and affiliation with the media event co-organizer Open Indy Brigade, an advocate for using public data and technology to benefit the city.

"Open data is an excellent concept, but the data only becomes useful when it is presented in a readable/usable/useful way," Ganci said. "That's where visual communication designers come in."

Before the signing ceremony, the mayors spoke briefly of expectations and benefits of the open-data cooperative.

"Together and with the support of our business community and local universities like Ivy Tech and IUPUI, we are able to announce today that Central Indiana is launching a regional open-data initiative," Ballard said, adding that the regional data-sharing project is the first of its kind.

Indianapolis public-safety data sets for police complaints, officer-involved shootings and the use of force -- the city's most commonly used and requested data -- are currently available via the new open-data portal.

On Nov. 14, the City of Indianapolis publicly released its public-safety data at a launch attended by Open Indy Brigade and others.

"We introduced our tech community to these data sets and watched their creativity take over," Ballard said. "We did not provide them with filtered reports. We gave them unfettered access to data and just got out of the way.

"We know we are much better off in our attempts to solve our cities' problems if we share data and share solutions," Ballard continued, encouraging those attending to "use the data once it is released, sift through it, ask questions, propose solutions."

Taking a regional approach to data sharing is logical given that problems with commercial development as well as crime are not restricted by political boundaries, said Fadness.

"This data becomes more than just (an) ability to solve problems. It becomes an asset to create new economic value," the Fishers mayor continued. "As we work toward this common goal, which is centralized and standardized data for all, I look forward to seeing what the true engine of our economy -- entrepreneurs -- can do with this information. I believe it is going to be extraordinary."

The partnership also benefits smaller cities.

"As a smaller community working on a limited budget, when we need information, it may take a while to get it, or we may not have the money in place right away to do it," Zionsville Mayor Papa said.

Through the collaborative project, "the city of Greenwood has been able to get ahead of the curve," said Myers, whose city has put all its financial data online and is working to make other information, including community meetings, accessible.

Checking out the website

Members of Code for America, which is part of the launch effort, check out the website that will soon be available to everyone. | LIZ KAYE / IU COMMUNICATIONS

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