How Smart Cities Could Improve Open Data Portals to Empower Local Residents and Businesses

A Case Study of the City of Los Angeles and COVID-19

by Jared Mondschein, Shannon Prier, Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, Edward Parker

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The global trend toward urbanization, combined with innovations in information and communications technologies, has resulted in a movement to revolutionize local governments through digital transformations of communities to become "smart." As these communities update and improve local processes and infrastructure, urban planners and city leaders have sought to include community members in local planning processes through access to public information. This objective often has been operationalized through open data portals, which serve as publicly accessible repositories for smart city data. However, despite the initial promise of such data portals, reports have found that use cases are limited and identified numerous challenges to such data portals' utility.

In this Perspective, RAND researchers use the city of Los Angeles's (LA's) open data portal to access and analyze data to develop generalizable strategies that city leaders could adopt to improve the utility of local open data portals. As a case study, the authors sought to develop an understanding of how LA city services and residents were affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. They found that significant obstacles exist that could limit the open data portal's utility toward achieving Mayor Eric Garcetti's objective of increasing transparency and empowering local users. Furthermore, many of the obstacles are common characteristics of the open data portals managed by cities across the United States.

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Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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