A Guide to Community Data

Creating a Data Use Guide

As part of the Georgia Smart Communitie Challenge, we hope this workshop on data assists you and your community in working with the various data sources and types that exist in your community. This workshop will outline the process of working with community data and creating a Data Use Guide.


All Data Are Local

As an introduction to the concepts that will be discussed at the workshop, please watch the following video and read the introductory chapter from Yanni Loukissas's book. If you did not receive a copy of his book, please download the introductory chapter here.

Watch on youTube

In the opening chapter of Yanni Loukissas’ book All Data Are Local, he points out that: “Today, it is too easy to acquire data sets online without knowing much about their locality—where are they produced and used elsewhere—and how that may matter. We have come to rely on the availability of data as generic resources for reasoning not only in scholarship but in education, politics, industry, and even our personal lives. It is now commonplace for researchers, government institutions, and businesses alike to make their data available online, although often without enough accompanying guidance on how to put those data to good use. The problem starts with our language: the widely used term data set implies something discrete, complete, and readily portable. But this is not the case. I contend that we must rethink our terms and habits around public data by learning to analyze data settings rather than data sets.”

One way to help your colleagues, other departments and agencies, and the public understand your data is to develop a Data Use Guide. The goal of a Data Use Guide is to provide the context and knowledge necessary to effectively use and interpret your data. It’s a way to document technical details, limitations, and to point out ethical and privacy concerns for individuals and groups who might be new to your project or to the data you’ve developed through your project. This workshops is designed to help you develop a Data Use Guide for your project. To help get you started, we have a couple example Data Use Guides that were developed following the GA Smart project in Chatham County:

To prepare for the virtual workshop, the steps below are setup to guide you through documenting your data and the people who will use it. For each step, please create one slide, using this powerpoint template - that slide might include images of the forms provided or screenshots of diagrams or sketches or tabular data to help explain your data.

Each step below has a corresponding powerpoint template slide, all you need to do is add your material. Please feel free to use additional slides if one is not enough to describe a given step.

Introductory Video

Step 1 - Describe Your Data

To begin the process of creating a data use guide, you need to describe the different kinds of data you anticipate collecting or data that you already have. What does an example data point, or limited data set look like? What are its attributes?

In your workshop slide deck, please include a sample of your data—a screenshot, a portion of a csv or Excel file, or whatever helps show what you’re working with.

Step 2 - Draw Your Data

There are many ways to represent your data—charts, maps, tables—and choosing how to represent your data is a big part of communicating its value and helping people make sense of what you’re trying to tell them. While you may not have the perfect data set right now, draw the kinds of visual stories you would like to be able to tell people with your data.

Using this sheet, or a digital tool if you prefer, draw one or more representations of your data. If you haven’t ever made a visual representation of data before, don’t worry about using real data or being overly precise. Just sketch a pattern that you expect the data to reveal. You may have different representations for different audiences, or that answer different questions.

Step 3 - Outline Your Data Lifecycle

What is the lifecycle for the data you are collecting or working with? Understanding how your data are created, stored, transmitted, filtered, analyzed, and archived will help you work through the specific needs for data management, stewardship, and sharing. At each step there are different skills and technology needs, not to mention policy and legal obligations. How do you navigate these, what do the hand-offs look like from one step to the next? Are there diverging applications for the data along the way? Finally, what is at the end of your data lifecyle? Will your data eventually be destroyed, placed into deep storage, or rendered obsolete?

Use this sheet to chart out your data lifecycle. If you have multiple kinds of data you might have separate lifecycles for each or you might link them together on one timeline.

Step 4 - Data Guide Overview

Now that you have described, represented, and charted the lifecycle of your data, we want to turn towards the question of how you might revise the way those data are collected, used, and shared by different audiences. This sheet will help you begin to document the context and process needed maintain your data over time.

There are some key elements to helping plan and navigate the many challenges of collecting, maintaining, and sharing data. Return to the stakeholder sheets you created in the first workshop to identify and address the needs of specific people involved in your GA Smart project.

Use this sheet to fill in details for each of the next three steps.


Data Collection

Going back to your Data Lifecycle, what are the different ways you will collect data (or ways you already have collected data)? What are the limitations of those data? For example, point in time surveys can be costly to update frequently but may provide deeper insight into specific, time-sensitive issues; automated data collection through sensors, cameras, and other means might make it easy to create near-real-time analytics, but may come with concerns for privacy and surveillance.

Data Sharing

What mechanisms are in place for data sharing and with whom can or might you share the data? As local government agencies, you likely have clear obligations for sharing data publicly upon request, but you may also have reason to share the data proactively—how do you manage that process? You may need to develop data sharing agreements with specific outside organizations, or internal data sharing policies that describe how shared data will be generated (if not in raw form), and how often it will be updated.

Step 5 - Commitments

To make all of this work, you need people in place to do the collection, manage data use, and facilitate data sharing. There are three main concerns to address: what does it take to make your data accessible? What do different audiences or experts need from your data? What are the ethical issues that arise through your data (via collection, analysis, or in combination with other data sets)? For each of these, who is responsible for making decisions and overseeing sound data policy development and implementation? How much of that is ‘in-house’ versus how much needs to be done in coordination with other departments or agencies?

By identifying the people (or organizational units) responsible for each of these commitments, you will be able to further tailor your data use guide to make sure everyone has what they need to be effective, manage risk, and make the most of your smart community. You may have identified some of these as stakeholders during the first workshop, or they might be new people you need to bring into the project as it matures. Fill these gaps in using this sheet.