New data gathering and crowdsourcing tools for NYC Community Boards

When was the last time you went to a Community Board meeting? Never, right?

If you live in NYC, you may not know how Community Boards affect your life. But they do. In a lot of ways: from reviewing liquor license applications to holding public forums on proposed infrastructure changes — like public plazas and bike lanes — boards play a role in shaping the city.

OpenPlans has previously worked with several community boards on public participation projects and this year we’re doing even more. We’d like to get better tools into the hands of District Managers and Committee Chairs, to gather more and better data, to make meetings more accessible to residents, to streamline bureaucratic processes, to support institutional memory and to assist their decision making.

In a series of blog posts over the next two weeks, we’ll discuss how tools we’re building at OpenPlans can help alleviate some of the challenges all boards share, improve public engagement with the most local level of government in NYC, and create efficiencies that can be shared across all community districts throughout the city, freeing up time and money to be used on more and better projects. First up:

Data Collection for Community Boards

Where are the most dangerous intersections in your neighborhood, the ones you risk your life trying to cross? Where would be a good place to install a sidewalk bench? What types of businesses does your community need more of? Gathering information about places is a frequent activity for community boards. The first step in formulating a plan is gathering data about existing conditions, as well as the needs and desires of community residents.

OpenPlans’ Shareabouts software is a web-based data collection tool that makes it easy to gather and make sense information about places from lots of people. Currently, if a community organization undertakes this type of data-gathering exercise, it’s done on paper, which is laborious and creates data entry challenges.

With Shareabouts, staff and volunteers can use smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers to collect surveys about places in their district, and put this info onto a map. For a business diversity initiative, the board might collect information about business name, type, opening hours, and store size. For requests to add active recreation facilities to green spaces, the tool could ask users to specify what sort of equipment they would like to see, as well as to give details about why this particular spot is a good place for it.

Back in the office, community board staff can then access a central database that stores all the captured data, for corrections, analysis, or export to reports for the Community Board members. This database can take the place of the myriad spreadsheets and Word documents that currently make up the bulk of the average community organization’s information storage system.

Better data opens the door to better prioritizing and planning. Being able to gather, analyze, and reuse that data through Shareabouts will help Community Boards serve their constituents even better.

Thanks to the generous support of our founder, OpenPlans is able to develop new tools in partnership with NYC’s Community Boards, at no cost to the boards. We’ll meet with you, learn about your needs and aspirations, find a good project to work on, set up the software, and train your volunteers in its use. Interested? Email us today! hello@openplans.org