Open data—publicly available information that can be used, re-used and redistributed by anyone—have become an increasingly vital resource in both science and policymaking. However, as institutions strive to make their records available to the broadest possible audience, deliberate measures must be taken to ensure that users can easily access and interpret the information provided.
Arlington County's chief digital officer asked SDAL to provide feedback on the region’s primary open data portal. Guided by a team of faculty mentors, students in SDAL's Data Science for the Public Good program were tasked with defining current best practices for open data portal design to provide Arlington officials with a strong baseline for future assessment.
The Data Science for the Public Good team consulted a variety of open data portals, tech websites, and journal articles about effective website design to create a comprehensive of a set of criteria which can be applied to all open data portals. These criteria suggest a number of best practices for user interface and data structure, which any locality creating and maintaining an open data portal should consider.
The criteria are divided into two broad categories: user interface and data quality. Both categories are evaluated on the basis of accessibility to a broad audience, and applicability to a wide range of uses, including statistical analysis.
The results of the team's research are published in the American Statistical Association’s Amstat News as Criteria for Open Data Portals Offer Best Practices for Websites. The article is comprehensive in scope, covering all facets of usability from user interface organization to the effective design of data visualization graphics.
By releasing these criteria for public use, SDAL aims to assist institutions in avoiding common pitfalls in portal design and encourage more organizations to adopt open data sharing practices.