In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an Executive Order which required the City of Chicago to have a data portal to post information about what the city does, how much it pays workers, and display other information that is useful for Chicagoans. Open data portals were still relatively new, but gaining in popularity. Chicago’s data portal went from a dozen data sets to hundreds. Since then, Chicago has learned more about what users need and which needed to be changed. Frequently, casual users would get lost in the ever-expanding data portal. While the amount of data increased, the interface did not and had not changed to accommodate the sheer volume of information.

Now, Chicago has launched a redesigned data portal based on this feedback. Visitors to the site will now see a clean interface that connects them with information, ranging from graphs, maps, to apps and raw data.

Desktop screenshot of the redesigned open data portal

Open data is not just for the tech savvy, but for all Chicagoans and visitors to the data portal. In fact, 40 percent of users describe themselves as someone in need of data or are just curious. Over the past 5 years, the Data Portal Team has receive a lot of feedback on the portal and a lot of questions. Those questions have given us insight to what is deficient and what is preventing more users from accessing it. In the past two years, Chicago has engaged in studies and focus groups to get feedback on a wide range of users.

The data portal now also connects users with other useful information, such as apps using Chicago data. Besides data itself, residents can use apps like SeeClickFix, Plow Tracker, and other apps to get useful updates. Apps created by the City, associated non-profits or during city-sponsored hackathons will be included on the data portal, giving users access to something besides data on the portal.

Around 30% of Data Portal users were using some sort of mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. The new portal experience is optimized for people on mobile devices, not just desktops and laptops. The portal will be formatted to fit smaller screens with buttons that can be used with fingers. This is also important because research has shown that low-income Chicagoans are more likely to use their smartphone or tablet to access city services like the Data Portal. Improving the Portal on mobile devices also means greater equity of service to everyone.

Redesigned data portal on a tablet

Feedback goes beyond web surveys. We partnered with groups such as Smart Chicago Collaborative and ChiHackNight to conduct focus groups across users. In September 2016, the City of Chicago and Smart Chicago Collaborative hosted a feedback session on the new design at Woodson Regional Library in Washington Heights to give feedback on an earlier test version of the new portal.

Feedback from over a dozen casual, curious citizens was clear: they didn’t only expect to see data on the portal but also access to city services. So, the redesigned portal provides contextual information to services or information related to data. For instance, looking at the Business Licenses dataset also provides you links to apply for a business license using the city’s new online permitting system.

For the times you still cannot figure out how to use the portal, such as how to download data, Chicago has launched a dedicated YouTube playlist with tutorials on the data portal. Those tutorials are part of the Data Portal homepage so it’s easier to stumble across helpful tips.

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Finally, the software developer, data scientists, startups and other tech savvy users obviously play a huge role in the redesigned data portal. There are clearer and more prominent links to the technical documentation needed to get started. Also, if you are interested in creating some software using the portal, the newly relaunched Chicago Developer’s website contains helpful documentation to get you started.

Designing a website is never “done”. You’ll see new tutorials added in the future and the roll out of even more new features in the near future. As always, the feedback we receive helps us plan the next set of features and data. Email or Tweet us with your feedback or questions.


Featured Image by Matthew Mazzei and released to the Public Domain (CC0).

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