Deloitte, MIT portal puts polish on open data

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Data USA allows people to sift through data tied to over 39,000 locations in the U.S. (Data USA)

A little more than a month after the White House unveiled a big open data project, a collaboration between Deloitte, MIT Media Lab and information visualization startup Data Wheel has produced one of the most comprehensive tool sets ever seen to turn that open data into knowledge.

Data USA gathers data from multiple federal sources — including the departments of Labor, Commerce and Education as well as the Census — to help citizens better understand and visualize issues in their communities.

Users can drill down through four subject areas — locations, industries, occupations and education — to create visualizations or collections of data that normally require some technical knowhow and a background in data science to sort and comprehend.

The site says it “provides an open, easy-to-use platform that turns data into knowledge,” allowing potentially millions of users “to conduct their own analyses and create their own stories” using the information collected by the federal government.

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A visualization of health data in Virginia. Data USA features thousands of similar visualizations. (Data USA)

“Our hope was that it would be a benefit a wide variety of people: the layperson who wants to understand the economy in Dayton, the journalist who wants to write an article based on some census visualizations, researchers, public policy groups that want to understand impact in a certain place,” said Matt Gentile, a analytics lead with Deloitte.

“There is a wide swath of society that can interact with what has been historically siloed in complex data.”

[Read More: White House plans to lift communities with open data]

On top of the data, the project has launched its own stories that analyze subjects like gender income inequality or how obesity and diabetes rates move together.

Gentile said the project came about after work MIT did around The Observatory of Economic Complexity, an online resource for international trade data, and Data Viva, an open data portal for Brazil’s economy.

“The conversation started with the brainpower behind [those projects], and led to the joint view around making government data more useful and being able to inspire more consumption and more storytelling around that data,” Gentile said. “The U.S. government collects more data than any other organization probably on the planet. We were focused on this project because of the importance that data plays in the nation’s economy from an economic and social impact perspective.”

People behind the project have given demos to government data officials inside agencies like the departments of Commerce, the Interior and Transportation, with many of them asking how they could use Data USA to shape the future of their own open data initiatives.

Gentile says the group is already working on version 2.0, which would feature visualizations around a set amount of time, a possible SDK and the addition of more data sets.

Poke around for yourself at datausa.io.

Contact the reporter on this story via email at greg.otto@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @gregotto. His OTR and PGP info can be found hereSubscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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data analytics, data visualization, open data, Tech
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