MAPC’s DataCommon is Back (and Better Than Ever!)

How much do you know about your community – your town’s demographics, employment, education, or tax revenue? Do you know what the average water usage is, or how many people drive to work versus how many take public transit?

If not  – you can! Now there’s a one-stop shop to find all of MAPC’s data on every Massachusetts town. The Metro Boston DataCommon, an open data resource that MAPC first launched in 2006, is returning after an extensive user-focused restructuring and redesign.

The DataCommon provides a trove of information about a wide array of topics – a resource for everyone seeking to understand their communities. It can help anyone – residents, stakeholders, planners, city and town officials, educators, journalists – explore data and make informed decisions.

In 2006, MAPC launched the very first version of our DataCommon in collaboration with the Boston Indicators Project at the Boston Foundation. Since then, it’s gone through multiple iterations and updates. Most recently, the MetroBoston DataCommon allowed users to explore data, look at community snapshots, and create their own charts and maps.

This year, the MAPC Digital Services team took on the task rebuilding the DataCommon. The new, simplified browser makes it easy to grab a quick fact about any city or town in Massachusetts or to dig deep into any of the data. What most users won’t see right away is the ‘back end’ work that connects the Data Common directly to MAPC’s in-house database, so that as new data is added, it’s available to external users with no delay or extra processing needed.

With Community Profiles, users can see information and visualizations on any
Massachusetts town

The DataCommon is built, first and foremost, for planners. It takes census numbers and other datasets and reformats it in a way that makes it easy to see town-by-town statistics. DataCommon’s Community Profiles tool allows users to see charts and numbers on the demographics, economy, education, governance, environment, housing, public health, or transportation of any city or town in the Commonwealth.

Look at the Community Profiles section if you need to grab a quick number for a report, grant application, or article: anything from the percent of tax revenue coming from personal property to the percent of commuters who walk to work. Each chart is linked back to a specific source and dataset.

But there’s also opportunity to dig into the data, with 383 datasets organized into 12 categories. Datasets are searchable and downloadable in formats that allow users to pull the numbers directly into Excel, GIS mapping programs, or other analysis tools.  Many datasets are available for census tracts, block groups, and census blocks, so that users can drill down to the neighborhood level.

That feature was one of many that came after a user-focused design process included interviews with planners, town officials, and others who had used past iterations of the DataCommon. During this process, MAPC’s Digital Services team learned that not many utilized the web mapping and GIS tools that were part of the MetroBoston DataCommon. Instead of learning how to use a new program, they wanted to be able to bring the data into the tools they were already familiar with.

The datasets now include more detailed, extensive, and easy-to-understand metadata system so that people downloading them can understand the source, limitations, and nuances of what they’re looking at.

The end result is an easy-to-use platform for everything from surface level information to detailed numbers on any city or town in the Commonwealth. We hope that people throughout Massachusetts can use the DataCommon to gain a deeper understanding of the communities in which they live and work.


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