Illinois’ Data Website Gives Public Unique Access

   By Benjamin Yount (Illinois Statehouse News) - 6/25/2011 - On Illinois’ new data website, people can learn that the beach at the Conservation Club 100 in Marion County is a private beach on a lake.
   Or that in the second quarter of 2010, Rock Island County saw $449 million in retail sales.
   Or that two neighborhoods on Chicago’s south side and one on the west side lead the state in lottery ticket sales, each topping $20 million this year.
   But users of Data.Illinois.gov cannot find out Gov. Pat Quinn’s salary, companies to which the state owes money or the business resurfacing Interstate 39.
   Data.Illinois.gov, launched this week, gives people access to raw data from the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, state Department of Revenue, state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and state Environmental Protection Agency.
   “As the summer rolls on, we plan to add data from a number of state agencies, with the goal of having this be a comprehensive, one-stop shop for everything that people want to know about information that comes from the state,” said Kayce Ataiyero, a spokeswoman for Quinn’s office.
   Ataiyero said that if anyone wants information on state salaries and contracts, they can file a Freedom of Information Act request.
   Quinn’s Innovation Council, which has been tasked with new ways to create jobs and spur economic growth, came up with the idea for the new website. Ataiyero said IDOT, which already was planning a data website, paid Sorcata, a Seattle-based web company, $33,395 to develop the site. Sorcata was given the contract, in part, because it had created similar data websites for the federal government and City of Chicago.
   The state’s threshold for bids begins at $33,500.
   David Morrison, associate director of the nonprofit watchdog group, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the new website has potential despite the minimal information currently posted.
   “The file cabinets that the government maintains are massive, and the more of that stuff that becomes public, the better,” said Morrison.
Although Morrison said open government is good, he worries about too much data being made public.
“Dumping raw data on the public can be tricky,” Morrison said.
   He said taxpayers don’t often know the questions to which they are seeking answers, or which pieces of information are worthwhile.
   Ataiyero said the state is hoping smartphone application developers will pick up the information and run with it.
   “We would love if people trolled the site, and get creative with ways they can suggest for us to use the data,” said Ataiyero.
  She said an app that highlights the amenities at rest stops on Illinois’ interstates is one example.
Morrison said it’s not a bad idea for the state to reach-out to “smart people outside of government.”
   “The more you make this stuff public, the more you’re going to find people who say, ‘Well I find these two data sets intriguing,’” Morrison said. “And that’s where the value comes from.”
   Story published courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News.

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014