OIG’s Advisory Concerning the City of Chicago’s Data Portal Found Problems with Accuracy, Consistency, and Overall Usability

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released an advisory which finds that the City did not comply with the requirements of Executive Order No. 2012-2 (“the Order”), which governs administration of the Data Portal. In the course of several OIG projects, we encountered issues with the Portal’s usability, accessibility, transparency, and accountability, in addition to finding that the City had not met some of its core requirements to ensure data transparency and a unified open data strategy. The City’s Open Data Advisory Group had not met since 2014 and, at that time, only included representatives from 18 of 29 City agencies. The City also had not published an Open Data Compliance Report since 2014, and the Chief Data Officer position remained vacant for 18 months. The lack of a cohesive, Citywide open data strategy that addresses every department’s data and needs impairs the effectiveness of any policies the City may create. The City does not consistently communicate changes in its systems—such as omitting some records without noting they are missing or providing a rationale for their omission—which hinders users from reaching accurate conclusions about City initiatives and resources.

OIG recommended that the City comply with the Order, to include resuming publication of its required annual Open Data Compliance Report, and standardizing and streamlining its open data initiatives, such as formalizing the dataset planning process, regulating documentation for query design decisions, streamlining methods for communicating dataset changes, and conducting a staffing analysis. In its response, the Mayor’s Office agreed and provided a series of steps it would take toward revitalizing the City’s Open Data Program and bringing the City into compliance with the Order.

“Over the course of its work in recent years, OIG analysis data posted on multiple City websites has routinely revealed fundamental accuracy, completeness and consistencies issues in that data, undermining transparency and legitimacy by making it harder for users to identify an authoritative or appropriate data source,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “With renewed municipal executive efforts and collaboration across departments, the Chief Data Officer and the newly formed Department of Assets, Information and Services have committed to establishing a first-class data program that will impart full transparency and accountability.”

The OIG advisory and the City’s response can be found at: bit.ly/TheChicagoDataPortal

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: igchicago.org.