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Open Data Guide

Welcome to the Help Guide for the City of Boulder's Open Data Catalog!

Consider this page your one-stop shop for your frequently asked questions, guides on how to use our data and our data, how to contact our staff, and more. Click on the links below to go to your topic of choice. Still have questions after reading this page? Contact the Open Data Team.

Contents


What is Open Data?

Open Data is machine-readable data (e.g. in a format that can be easily consumed and summarized by a variety of applications) that is free of charge and anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it. Many cities and counties across the world provide open data to increase government transparency, accountability, and access to government programs and information.

City of Boulder’s Open Data is available online, in an open format, with no logins or fees required for use The City’s Open Data Team and Data Stewards are responsible for publishing and maintaining these datasets, per the 2017 Open Data Policy.

 

How to Navigate and Search the Open Data Site

There are several different ways to navigate and search for information on the Open Data Catalog :

  • Browse by Category
    • All datasets are assigned a ‘Category’ (e.g., Zoning and Private Property or Public Safety). On the Homepage , click on any category below the icons to browse datasets related to that topic.
  • Browse by Department
    • Every dataset published on the Open Data Catalog is sponsored or owned by a City of Boulder Department. A list of datasets classified by Department can be found at the bottom of the Homepage . Note that all city departments are listed here, but a given department may not have any datasets published yet.
  • Search by Tags
    • Each dataset has a series of tags (e.g., popular keywords and searches) assigned. The most popular tags across the Open Data Catalog can be viewed on the right bar of the Homepage and search result pages. Tags are also listed on the top right bar of every dataset page—if you click on a specific tag, it will re-direct you to other datasets containing that tag.
  • Search by Keyword
    • The Homepage and all internal Open Data pages have a keyword search box. Note that this keyword search is specific to Open Data pages and published datasets; it does NOT search the entire City of Boulder website and does NOT search within actual data files. For example, if you search for ‘homeless’ you will be directed to datasets that have the word ‘homeless’ in the dataset title, description, and/or other tags. The search results will not include datasets that may only have the word ‘homeless’ within the actual data file, e.g. within the Emails to Boulder City Council dataset.
  • Browse all Datasets

How to Contact a Member of the Open Data Team or Data Owner

There are a couple different ways to contact members of the City of Boulder Open Data Team and dataset owners:

  • Contact the dataset maintainer and/or data author. Each dataset page’s ‘Details’ section includes a city staff member who maintains and authors the dataset. Clicking or hovering on those links will pull up the email address for that city staff or workgroup.
  • Submit feedback form. Each dataset page also has a ‘Feedback’ section. Here you can report whether this data are helpful and details on why or why not. When submitting feedback, please be as detailed as possible and provide an email address for follow up. Those forms get sent to the City’s Open Data Team so they can continue working to improve the Open Data Catalog.
  • Contact the Open Data Team. Fill out the Open Data Team contact form if you have a general question, want to share an example of using data from the Open Data Catalog for a project or product, or are interested in collaborating with the City of Boulder on a data analysis project.
  • Suggest a Dataset form.  This is a good option if you have a general question or want to make a suggestion for a dataset to be added to the Open Data Catalog (see ‘How to Suggest a Dataset’ for more information). Submitted forms will be sent to the Open Data Team and can be routed to appropriate contacts within the city.

How to Request or Suggest Data

 

How to Request Data or Information via CORA / public records request

The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requires that most public records be accessible to the public. Anyone can request information that the office possesses, and this can include raw or summary data on a City of Boulder program or activity. The Open Data Program is not involved in CORA or public records requests. Please visit Central Records’ webpage for more information on the CORA request process.

 

How to Suggest a Dataset

The City of Boulder Open Data Team is always adding new datasets and would love suggestions from the public for new topics and data. You can fill out our online form to suggest a dataset .

Please note that suggesting a dataset does NOT necessarily mean that city staff will be able to provide and post the data on our Open Data Catalog. It does help us demonstrate public interest and demand to city departments and assists with our prioritization for data publishing pipelines. If you have a specific data request or urgent timeline, submitting a CORA/ public records request is the more appropriate course of action.

 

Partnering on a Data Project

The City of Boulder regularly partners with other public, private, and academic or research organizations for specific data analysis projects. The City’s Open Data Program and Innovation and Technology Department, can help facilitate these requests with interested city departments. Please contact the Open Data Team and provide more information about your proposed partnership or project.


How to Download Data Files

The Open Data Catalog contains several different data formats for download, including CSV (can be viewed in programs such as Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Notepad/text readers), PDF (mostly data dictionaries and text information providing additional context for a particular dataset), and KML and Shapefile geospatial file formats.

 

Non-Geospatial Data

To download any data or documentation file, click on one of the data file links in the dataset page’s table. See below for an example. Depending on browser settings, this will either open the dataset in your web browser or begin downloading directly to your local machine.

Screenshot showing link to the data dictionary for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data Set

 

Geospatial Data

All geospatial / map data is hosted on the City of Boulder’s GIS Data Portal.

Follow the same steps as the above section for non-geospatial data. Clicking on that link will take you directly to the GIS Data Portal, where you can

  1. view a preview of the data mapped and in a preview table, and
  2. download the data via a CSV, KML, or Shapefile format, or connect to the data by a REST or GeoJSON endpoint.

See below for example.

OSMP trails map screenshot showing tab for data and where to download the data

How to Use and Analyze Data Files

The primary purpose of the City of Boulder’s Open Data Program is to publish data in support of the City’s commitment to transparency, civic engagement, and innovation. But there are countless ways the public could use, analyze, and interpret this data. This section is intended as a very high-level overview of how someone might use and analyze our data files.

Our city staff are available to answer questions (see “How to Contact a Member of the Open Data Team or Data Owner”)  and even partner on data projects (see “Partnering on a Data Project”). For more in-depth assistance, we suggest self-learning on data analysis topics and/or connecting with the Boulder Civic Data Community.

 

Example of using Microsoft Excel for Basic Data Exploration

If you were interested in looking at greenhouse gas emissions in our community, you might start by reading the “Areas of Inquiry” box for that dataset to get inspiration for the types of questions you could answer with this dataset.

Areas of Inquiry text block screenshot

Once you download the “Community Emissions by Source” CSV file and open the file in Microsoft Excel, you could navigate to the ‘Data’ pane, and begin sorting and filtering your data. See green boxes below.

Data tab and sort and filter options screenshot from Excel

Click the ‘Sort’ button, and sort by the column with the header ‘Emissions per Sub-Category (MTCO2e)’, organizing values from largest to smallest. You can see that the source ‘Electricity’ has the highest emissions rate for many years. You could also use filters to focus only on specific year(s) and/or sources.


How to Use and View Summary Data

While the purpose of the Open Data Catalog is to provide data for public use, the City of Boulder does maintain summary data in the form of interactive dashboards for key city priorities and strategies.

Visit the Boulder Measures Community Dashboard for summary dashboards depicting high-level data insights and progress towards program goals for important city programs and community indicators. Many of the Boulder Measures dashboards have associated data published on the Open Data Catalog.

Many departments and programs also publish data summaries in master plans, reports, City Council presentations, and webpages. Use the keyword search at the top right of the city website (visible on every webpage within bouldercolorado.gov ) to search for a topic of interest and look for associated reports and summary data.


How to Get Involved in the Boulder Civic Data Community

Boulder, Colorado is well-known for its innovative community. There are several local groups with a civic data focus and the Open Data Program partners with many of them for data-oriented community engagement activities.

 

Art of Data

The City of Boulder Open Data Program and the Boulder Public Library co-sponsor a bi-annual Art of Data exhibition, which first ran from December 2018 through February 2019. Community members are encouraged to use local data as inspiration for their artwork. More information and photos of artwork can be found on the Showcase page.

 

Code for Boulder

Code for Boulder is the Boulder brigade of the national Code for America organization. Code for Boulder is a volunteer-driven organization that partners with local non-profits and governments such as the City of Boulder in order to improve city and community services. Members have partnered with the City of Boulder Open Data Program on specific analysis projects and are co-hosts of the bi-annual Art of Data exhibition at the Boulder Public Library’s Canyon Gallery. Meetings are open to the public and are posted on their Meetup page . Contact their organization if you have a new idea or want to help with existing projects.

 

Analyze Boulder

Analyze Boulder is a community of people interested in all things data. They host monthly data- and idea-inspired talks in Boulder that are always free and open to the public. Meetings include time for networking and sharing job and project opportunities with others. Sign up on their Meetup page to be notified of future talks and topics.

 

Data for Democracy

The Boulder chapter of Data for Democracy communicates primarily via a channel on Slack and through occasional in-person meetings. Similar to Code for Boulder, Data for Democracy is volunteer-driven and works on data projects related to the Boulder community. Contact their organization for data analysis ideas or to help with existing projects.

 

University of Colorado

The City of Boulder partners with a variety of civic innovation and data-oriented groups within the CU system, including the data services branch of the University Libraries and individual professors who want to use Open Data as part of a class project or lecture. Contact the Open Data Team  if you want to get connected in this area.


How to Find Data for Other Geographic Areas

This Open Data Catalog contains data on programs and services within Boulder city limits, not Boulder County as a whole.

Visit Boulder County Open Data for county-wide information, which may contain city-level information for Boulder specifically.

Colorado state has an extensive Open Data site, called the Colorado Information Marketplace .  Many datasets will contain data specific to the Boulder area.


How to Share Work Products using Boulder Open Data

We love to hear about how Boulder Open Data is used by the public! Please contact the Open Data Team  to share any analyses, visualizations, reports, or other work products that use our data. At a minimum we would like to share it with the relevant department(s) and data owner(s), and we may feature a link and summary on our Showcase page .


For Governments: How to Collaborate with the City of Boulder’s Open Data Resources

The City of Boulder’s Open Data Team are happy to learn from and share resources and templates with other governments. Our Open Data Policy and other relevant strategy documents can be found on the Open Data webpages. For other resources and templates such as data inventories and prioritization, contact the Open Data Team  for more information.