The San Diego Regional Data Library organizes volunteers to help San Diego civic and social groups answer questions about their communities using data.
The Library operates two main programs: a data library for acquiring, cataloging, and publishing data, and an engagement program that allows data-savvy volunteers to learn about and solve important civic and social issues in San Diego County.
Data isn’t useful until it answers a question or informs an issue, and the analysis and visualization of data is a skill that is pervasive in a technology-driven region like Southern California. Even so, it can be hard for nonprofits to find, attract, and retain skilled volunteers. The Library’s engagement program organizes weekend data events and longer-term analysis projects to help civic and social groups answer data questions and recruit skilled volunteers to their organizations.
The Data Library program is building a repository of regional data, with an emphasis on the data that is most useful for community development. We are learning what data San Diego nonprofits, civic groups, and government agencies need to do their work, acquiring that data, and publishing it to a public data repository. The Data Library program serves San Diego County citizens, and we also offer services to groups who want to make specific sets of data available to their members or staff.
The Library operates a collection of Web applications and offers several services to implement the Data Library and Civic Engagement programs. Our Web applications include a data repository, a user forum, and a wiki.
Our forum, a customized version of the Open Source application AskBot, is a place for data users, producers, and analysts to collaborate around data and issues. Data users can ask for help with finding data or data analysis, data producers can answer requests for data, and data analysts can offer their services. The forum is also where Library staff organize the most wanted list—a list of data files requested by data consumers that allows other consumers to vote on which data they need most.
The Library’s wiki holds an evolving knowledge base of information about data sources, analysis techniques, and volunteer projects. It’s a catchall for information that doesn’t fit into the repository or is more detailed than is appropriate for the forum.
Our data repository is a custom version of CKAN, the most popular Open Source data portal application. Using CKAN, our staff and volunteers can catalog data we’ve located or acquired. Valuable data is scattered all over the Web, and finding it can be a real chore. When we or our users locate valuable data, we create an entry in the repository, along with all the metadata that makes datasets easy to search for and use. Sometimes we copy data into the repository, or we may just create an entry that links to the data file at the website of the agency that produced it.
Library staff uses our software to perform its services in support of our two programs. The services include: data acquisition, data cataloging, running data events, and organizing analysis projects. We perform these services both for the Library itself, and on behalf of or in conjunction with our partners and clients.
Acquisition involves locating data to answer a particular data question. Our internal acquisition activities are driven by questions posted to the forum and interviews with local nonprofits, planning groups, and city agencies. We can also acquire data under contract for your specific problems. Contact us for more information.
Cataloging follows acquisition. After data is acquired, we could just send out a file, but it is better for everyone to have a record of the data in our repository. We can also perform this service for your organization by creating a custom catalog for the data that your staff produces or we acquire for you. Let us know if you are interested in cataloging services.
Data isn’t useful on its own, and the Library can help you answer specific data-driven questions. We can help you find professional analysts to work on your projects, but our focus is on community-driven analysis. By involving data-savvy volunteers, you not only get the analysis you need, but you are also introducing skilled, civic-minded San Diegans to your organization and the problems you are solving, building a volunteer analysis capacity that will be valuable for future projects. Call or write us if you are interested in starting an analysis project.
Data Events are the drive-through version of analysis projects. Over an afternoon or a weekend, a group of volunteer programers, statisticians, Excel jockeys, and database experts will learn about the issues your organization addresses and dive into data to find insights and answers to guide your operations. These events can be tailored to the problems your organization is solving and the data you have or need to find. The events can result in answers to important questions, new datasets, or innovative visualizations. Beyond the value of the data, your organization will build volunteer capacity with skilled, experienced technologists. We’d be happy to help you set up one of these unique events.