… Local governments, like many businesses, are struggling with a data glut. Agencies collect huge amounts of information about topics as diverse as building permits, potholes,Medicaid cases and foster-child placements. Technology, according to computer experts and government officials, can be a powerful tool to mine vast troves of government data for insights to streamline services and guide policy.

“The mistake people make is to think that collecting the data is the endgame,” saidMichael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York. The real payoff, he said, takes another step. “We actually use the data,” he noted…

… The City of Nanaimo has been pushing the envelope on open data and open government for a number of years now.

Recently, I was directed to their new Council Agendas and Minutes webpage. I recommend you check it out.

Here’s why.

At first blush the site seems normal. There is the standard video of the council meeting (queue cheesy local cable access public service announcement), but the meeting minutes underneath are actually broken down by the second and by clicking on them you can jump straight to that moment in the meeting.

As anyone who’s ever attended a City Council meeting (or the legislature, or parliament) knows, the 80/20 rule is basically always in effect. About 80 percent of the time the proceedings are either dead boring and about 20 percent (often much less) of the time the proceedings are exciting, or more importantly, pertinent to you. One challenge with getting citizens engaged on the local level is that they often encounter a noise to signal problem. The ratio of “noise” (issues a given citizen doesn’t care about) drowns out the “signal” (the relatively fewer issues they do care about).

The City of Nanaimo’s website helps address this problem. It enables citizens to find what matters to them without having to watch or scroll through a long and dry council meeting. Better still, they are given a number of options by which to share that relevant moment with friends, neighbors, allies, or colleagues via TwitterFacebookDelicious, or any other number of social media tools.

One might be wondering: Can my city afford such a wiz-bang setup?

Excellent question.

Given Nanaimo’s modest size (it has 78,692 citizens) suggests they have a modest IT budget. So I asked Chris McLuckie, a City of Nanaimo public servant who worked on the project. He informed me that the system was built in-house by him and another city staff member; it uses off-the-shelf hardware and software and so cost under $2,000 and it took two weeks to code up …

DataSF is a central clearinghouse for datasets published by the City & County of San Francisco. The site allows you to find datasets in several ways: general search, tags/keywords, categories, and rating. The goal is to improve access to city data through open machine-readable formats. While the number and quality of datasets is increasing, we recognize there is much more that we can do. You can help by rating and commenting on existing datasets or by telling us what datasets we should make available to the public.

While there is plenty of room for improvement, our goal in releasing this site is:

(1) improve access to data 
(2) help our community create innovative apps 
(3) understand what datasets you’d like to see 
(4) get feedback on the quality of our datasets.