Simple Tricks to Get Better Data

One of the most common impediments governments face in making better use of their data – and releasing it to the public – is data quality.

Since much of the data that municipal governments maintain and use relates to a specific location, ensuring that address data is complete and accurate can make this data much easier to use, and much more valuable. There are some easy techniques that government can utilize to better ensure that address information – whether submitted by citizens themselves or collected in other ways – is as complete and accurate as possible.

In addition, once collected, taking steps to standardize address information can make it much easier to share within municipal government, as well as with other governments and external data users.

Collecting Good Data

One of the best ways to enhance data quality is to make it easy for citizens to submit good information in the first place. Every form that citizens use to interact with your jurisdiction – to obtain a permit or license, to submit a service request, etc. – is a chance to capture accurate information from them.

Web-based form submissions are a common way for most citizens to interact with their local government, and – properly designed – can help ensure your government gets the most accurate information possible directly from citizens. An effective way of ensuring that accurate address information gets collected when citizens or businesses submit a web form is to use an address autocomplete service.

This simple web service is incorporated into web-based forms and assists users in entering valid addresses in a form that is optimized for internal use.  An example of how an autocomplete service can make address entry easier for citizens and more accurate for government can be seen below.

Creating an autocomplete service is straightforward and low in cost – data on street names and subdivision names is available from a variety of sources at no charge. Both the U.S. Census Bureau and the NYS GIS Clearinghouse make this data available for any Upstate government to use.

Standardizing Existing Data

If your jurisdiction collects address data on forms or applications, chances are that this data exists in a variety of formats across different agencies or departments. The quality of this address data may vary greatly depending on how it was collected and how it is maintained.

One way to make this data more usable and more valuable is to standardize it across all departments, and to ensure that it is properly geocoded. This allows users to view a much richer (and more complete) history for a specific property by enabling them to combine data from across different departments – and even combine it with data from different government entities.

It can also benefit efforts that are focused on understanding or optimizing how things work on a city or county-wide scale. For example:

  • Is there a relationship between the location of specific licensed businesses – or type of businesses – and calls to 311 (or 911)?
  • Are permits or licenses from one department being issued to properties with outstanding violations or complaints from another department?
  • Are local businesses in compliance with state or county permitting requirements but out of compliance with local requirements?

These are just a few of the many questions that governments should consider as they work to improve the level of service they are providing. Each of these questions requires address data to be standardized across multiple local agencies.

There are a number of different ways standardize address data, and your jurisdiction may have access to a tool or utility that can compare raw addresses submitted by a citizen on a form or application to an authoritative source. The NYS GIS Clearinghouse provides a public geocoder services that can be used to standardize addresses data and to provide geospatial information. This service uses authoritative data collected from each county – and while it is continually being refined and enhanced, this is a powerful resource for any local government that wants to enhance its existing data by standardizing addresses and adding geospatial data. The U.S. Census Bureau provides a similar service.

Ideally, once an address has been standardized it can be assigned a unique identifier that can be used across departments that refer to the same piece of property when discussing services delivered by different departments.

Sharing Data

One of the most common impediments to sharing data both inside governments and with outside users is data quality. Even if your internal government departments – and external data users – have access to your data, they may face challenges in using it efficiently because of a non-standard address format.

Having an internal dialog about address standardization can be beneficial in a much deeper way for local governments as well. These conversations encourage departments to look at property data collectively, which can help surface issues with different departments maintaining their own customized information about a property.

This isn’t all that uncommon, as different departments may view the same parcel of land through the lens of their own specific service or activity.  The tax assessors office, water department, zoning office and other agencies may all have a different view of a parcel or address and maintain slightly different information about it.

Ultimately, the goals of a local government and the people it serves are better realized when these different views are unified – encouraging more meaningful data sharing both inside and outside of government.

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