All on its own, your data can tell you amazing things about your work. You can learn where you're providing services, what people think of them, and how that's changing over time. It's great stuff – but it's not enough.
Your data isn't meant to be consumed all by itself. Like any main course, it needs sides.
Your work happens in a variety of contexts – the work of other organizations, the economy, and your local government, to name a few. When you can see your data in those contexts, you can learn a heck of a lot more than you can by looking at your data in a vacuum. Take, for example, housing data. Here's a map I pulled from a great new site by the California Housing Partnerhip Corporation of the public housing units in my hometown, Petaluma, Ca.
Great. Now we know there about six federally subsidised housing units in my hometown. Good to know.
It starts to get really interesting when you layer on information about poverty rates:
Now we can see the housing units aren't far from, but aren't actually in, the areas with the highest poverty rates in town. And we can start asking questions: Are the units where they're needed most? Did those areas used to have the highest poverty rates?
That's putting your data in context, and it's not hard to do.
More and more governement data – local, state and federal – is being made freely available to the public. Sites like Open Data Search can help you find open data sets from all over the world.
Now that the data's out there, what will you do with it?