Coders Interpret Burlington's Open Data

Feb 24, 2014

The city of Burlington took a huge step toward more open government last week when officials released a wide variety of data on the city’s website.

Now, coders are interpreting that data and trying to create useful tools for the public.

This weekend about 30 people gathered at Fletcher Free Library in Burlington for Code Across BTV. It was one of 45 other CodeAcross events taking place around the world.

The idea was to take data that might not be all that interesting or accessible, and make it easier to understand and use.

Linda Setchell was one of the participants. Her group used the City of Burlington’s data to create a digital map of all the early childhood education centers in Burlington.

“You can go in and look at what centers exist in a particular ward of the city,” said Setchell. “And compare that to the population of zero to five-year-olds.”

Setchell says she imagines the map will be most useful to public officials and civic professionals who want to see where the gaps are in early childhood education.

She says it also highlighted the need for cleaner, more reliable data from the city and the childcare facilities themselves. And she says with additional information, the map could expand.

“It could be designed to work across the state,” said Setchell.

That was just one of the projects. Other groups looked at the city’s finances, resources for the homeless and the Lake Champlain basin.

Bradley Holt is one of the organizers of Code Across BTV. He thinks open data is important for the public to use.

“What I think it does, is it allows people to have a more informed public dialogue, because we actually have real data to work with,” said Holt. “To turn into visualizations or info graphics or even applications that can use that open data.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has said he’s interested in data, and even stopped by to speak at the beginning of the event on Saturday.

Holt says he thinks that shows a commitment to transparency.

“I think part of that goal is to restore some trust in government,” said Holt. “By being transparent and saying ‘we’re putting it all out there.’ And folks can go through it and hold them accountable for what they do.”

While the event only ran until the end of the weekend, Holt says he imagines that some of the groups will continue work on their projects.