TOPCities: Unlocking Local Data

City residents and the local organizations that represent them best know their communities and the problems they face. But most data that could empower people to identify solutions to local problems is guarded or stuck in governments and other civic institutions. Cities that do have data to inform potential community-designed solutions often need support to establish open data programs and release data in a way that is usable and effective for local needs. Additionally, technologists, who are often thought of as “end users” or innovators who can build impactful tools with public data, are also often left out of decision-making processes about available data and how it can be used.


COVID-19 has made data-driven collaboration a necessity to solve pressing challenges like unemployment, homelessness, and food insecurity. Now more than ever, civic actors need new models for working together toward data-driven solutions to challenges that residents are facing in the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


GOAL: We’re bringing together local governments, private-sector technologists, and community organizations in San Jose, California and St. Paul, Minnesota, to demonstrate a new collaborative model for city governments to use public data to address local needs in response to COVID-19. 


From there, we’ll create and publish resources for building city government implementing capacity, to scale and replicate best practices across additional cities.


IMPACT: The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation is partnering with the Centre for Public Impact to launch the Opportunity Project in Cities with a first cohort of three partner cities. Modeled after The Opportunity Project (TOP) at Census Open Innovation Labs, local city agencies, community organizations, and public interest technologists will work together throughout a 16-week sprint to research, co-design, and launch a new public service tool to address a local challenge related to COVID-19. 

PARTNERS: TOP in Cities is primarily a collaboration between the Beeck Center and the Centre for Public Impact. The project will engage community organizations for adequate community participation in co-design; tech partners and product advisors to support the design and development of civic tech products; and city agencies to drive engagement and apply data-informed policy change. Additional research will focus on insights about data use among community organizations, community data owners, organizers, and changemakers.

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