Data from the Prince George’s County government became easier to access this week after the county relaunched a website that gives the public the power to probe, download and search data sets about everything from building permits to crime.
The county rolled out a major upgrade of Data Prince George’s, an open-source website, during a conference at the Gaylord National Resort sponsored by the tech company Socrata, which created the software that allows users to visualize and filter public data on the websites of Prince George’s County and other local governments.
“It’s about empowering the community to make the changes,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who was invited by Socrata to speak at the conference. “Having the data available online will feed right into that. It’s greater access to information and transparency to help solve problems at a neighborhood level.”
Several state and local governments in the Washington region have adopted open-data policies in recent years — including the District, Montgomery County and the state of Virginia.
While each portal offers different types of data, most include searchable maps, charts and spreadsheets that developers, researchers or entrepreneurs can download and use.
Everything from tree trimming to government spending is available to the most curious of residents.
Baker places an extremely high emphasis on using and giving the public access to basic data about government services. That approach was part of his signature “Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative,” which launched in 2012 and used data indicators to identify six areas of the county struggling the most with crime, poor health, slow economic activity and other issues.
The initiative helped convince skeptics across county government that collecting data, analyzing it and making it publicly available could make individual agencies operate more efficiently, county officials say.
“It was a laboratory for government,” said CountyStat manager Ben Birge.
Since 2014, officials have been building the open-data portal by collecting data sets from agencies and their CountyClick 311 service — where residents call and file online requests for services such as filling potholes.
This week’s relaunch of the portal eliminated many glitches and includes new technology that will automatically upload 311 and public safety data, Birge said.
Baker told his audience Monday that both internal and external data sets have helped his government target services where they are most needed.
For example, by tracking requests for code enforcement, the government realized that demand was higher in poorer, more densely populated neighborhoods inside the Beltway, and redeployed inspectors who had been spread evenly throughout the county.
A CountyStat team mapped data from domestic violence calls and showed that a large number of calls were coming from the southern part of Prince George’s. But the services that help families affected by domestic violence were located primarily in the northern portion of the county.
The analysis convinced the government to give higher priority for grants to organizations and nonprofits willing to serve those southern communities.
The county executive said he hopes more citizens will start to use the revamped data portal as a clearer window into county operations.
“This is how innovation in government is going to happen throughout the country,” Baker said.