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Incomplete Take on the History of Open Data in Chicago

Following is an excerpt from a piece written by Daniel X. O’Neill, a leader in the Open Data community  He is the Executive Director of Smart Chicago Collaborative; and former EveryBlock.com co-founder:

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…

Click here for the rest of the story

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