The Virtual Economic Information Office (Oficina Virtual de Información Económica, OVIE) aims to democratize market research by making public economic data more accessible and user-friendly. The online portal is intended to provide all the information an entrepreneur would need to choose a location for a new business and understand his or her market. Users can generate custom reports and data downloads for any area on the map and see socio-demographic, labor and economic data as well as potential competitors and suppliers across more than 900 types of businesses.
Publishing open data is great, but it is not sufficient to truly democratize public information. Downloading and analyzing raw data are specialized skills, so residents and their intermediaries often need help or guidance to extract real value from open data.
How’d They Do It?
Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) collects a trove of social and economic data, but it was not trickling down to users at the city level. The Mexico City Economic Development Secretariat (SEDECO) decided to link the data to an interactive map of Mexico City, making rich economic data available online in a business-friendly format. The Virtual Economic Information Office (OVIE) levels the information playing field by providing market data at the hyper-local level that small-business owners would otherwise have to forego or purchase from research firms. In building it, officials reviewed model data portals from Pittsburgh, Portland and Chicago in the U.S., along with Santiago de Chile, Madrid and Paris. It took 30,000 working hours to stand up the system and cost just over USD $100,000 in additional server capacity.
The Virtual Office can draw on 50 million data points across more than 190 variables. But its simple landing page has buttons for six turnkey analysis tools that generate detailed information for any area of the city map that a user chooses. The tools are:
- a customized socio-demographic report (population age, level of schooling, etc.)
- a customized labor report (workers, wages, level of economic development and specialization, etc.)
- a supplier search,
- a comparison of two areas,
- a customized data batch for a particular area, which allows users to add their own information about real estate, apartments, etc.
- scheduling an appointment with a data expert to receive personalized guidance.
There are also buttons for a help page and a Quick User Guide that gives step-by-step instructions for each tool.
How Is It Going?
The site had attracted some 50,000 active users a few months after its launch.
In the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2017, the site allowed officials to determine the impact on workers and residents in affected neighborhoods.
The collaboration between Mexico City and the national statistics agency has continued to grow.
Level of aggregation. Interviewing users is essential for striking a balance between packaging open data too much or not enough. In New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics and the Department of Small Business Services partnered on the NYC Business Atlas, which bundles business-related datasets with a mapping tool. During user research, small-business owners told city officials that they preferred to see the disaggregated data instead of an aggregated ‘score’ for different neighborhoods.
Who should build the platforms? Some governments will publish raw open data and let non-governmental actors—whether commercial or not-for-profit—build the front-end sites or apps that make data usable for particular audiences. This can work well (and at low cost to the government) when the data is high-value and there’s a robust tech ecosystem in place to add more value to it. But it can also result in tools that are unsustainable. In many contexts, government has to step up and engage in some tactical data engagement—up to and including the construction of front-end platforms—if it wants to ensure that user-friendly civic-information tools are being built and maintained.