In light of today’s official open data launch by Cook County, I wanted to do a top-of-the-head post about what I know– and what I’ve heard from people who know more– about the history of open data in Chicago.
Data journalism has long been a main driver of the open data movement. The current (and most sophisticated) incarnation is the excellent News Apps Team at the Chicago Tribune. Stories like those in the Tribune’s 1986 series American Millstone: An Examination of the Nation’s Permanent Underclass used data to back up the narrative. The Sun-Times’ Pulitzer-winning stories about the impact of shootings is partly a result of their dogged efforts to get data.
Government technology workers themselves have been at the center of every open data project I can think of. Complete GIS (geographic information systems) data, including all street segments, applicable address ranges, and shape files for the city limits and other relevant boundaries, have been available for download on the City’s Web site for years. One-off databases like the long-running license lookup tool maintained by the State of Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation is another example of existing data that has whetted appetites.
Chicago has been a leader in the publication and display of crime data going back 15 years. The Chicago Police Department launched their Citizen ICAM (Information Collection for Automated Mapping) database— a mapping program inside police stations to run on PCs running Windows 95 based on MapInfo 2.0 software. Later renamed CLEARMap (CLEAR stands for Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting– my goodness, governments love acronyms that make words and near-words), this is the data that fed the groundbreaking ChicagoCrime.org. Here’s a fascinating 1996 report by the National Institute of Justice lauding the program:
Founded in 1990, Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC) was created by members of the Commercial Club of Chicago to collect demographic and baseline data on social policy and human needs on a regular basis in order to create a more complete picture of the 7-county metropolitan Chicago region, thereby empowering the nonprofit sector with critical information to make better strategic development decisions.
- Society works best when information is generally available
- Government works best when information is shared across divisions
- Web technology gives unprecedented opportunities for making data available
- Ensuring access to public data requires clear guidelines on how, when and with whom data is to be shared
THEREFORE, we seek to advance the coordination of and access to public information.
Another data-informed series was the Tribune’s “Chicago schools: ‘worst in America’: an examination of the public schools that fail Chicago” from 1988 (h/t@richgor).
Data intermediaries like those who are part of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership have also been there from the beginning. One example from 1987 is a consortium called the Illinois Economic DataBase (reffed here). It included the University of Illinois Chicago Center for Urban Economic Development and corporate partners like the Federal Reserve Bank, People’s Gas, and First National Bank of Chicago. They tried to get data out of the Illinois Department of Employment Security and data on economic activity, that would help local governments understand their economy better. MCIC President Virginia Carlson was a part of the consortium while at UIC, and she reports that the IED published hardcopy data for a year or two in the late 80’s early 90’s, but stopped thereafter.