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Engage Seattle: Closing the Feedback Loop


Tom Van Bronkhorst from the Department of Neighborhoods explains Engage Seattle to the lunch crowd at Impact Hub

Last Thursday, we co-hosted a Civic Tech Lunch Hour at Impact Hub with the Department of Neighborhoods, which is implementing an Executive Order from Mayor Ed Murray that directs the City to approach outreach and engagement in an equitable manner. Tom Van Bronkhorst from the Department of Neighborhoods shared the Mayor’s vision and shared how any member of the Seattle public can participate in Engage Seattle.

We invited attendees to share their thoughts on what information they want from the City, what information they want to give to the City, and how we might close the feedback loop. We also asked which issues people cared about the most. The more than 40 participants did this by writing down their ideas anonymously on sheets of paper and then sharing out from each table. As promised, we collected those data from everyone who wanted to give us their papers, sorted them into categories, and are currently preparing the full dataset for publication on

In the spirit of closing the feedback loop for this event, I prepared the response below. I sorted the information requests by category, determined who the responsible office is, and, if the information is available now, linked to where it can be found. In many cases, it is already published to or on the City’s website. In cases where the information is not available, I will pass the request on to our open data champions in the relevant departments to inform how we prioritize which datasets to work on next.

We also took in your suggestions for what data you want to be able to provide to the City and how you’d like us to close the feedback loop. That information goes into a much larger project, so in the interest of not overwhelming readers, I will leave it off today’s text summary. However, you will see it in the dataset. Once that’s published, I’ll update this post with a link.

Thanks again to everyone who attended! If you weren’t able to attend last Thursday’s lunch, don’t worry –  there are still several ways you can influence this process:

If you’re still hungry to get involved, please check out our Boards & Commissions for openings. If you’re interested in collaborating on a technology project, you can reach out at If you want more than that, we invite you to consider coming to work for us! You can explore job openings at



What information do you want from the City?

Managed by: City Budget Office

Specific requests: proposed budget; how budgets are set and evaluated

Where to find it: The City Budget Office publishes the current budget book as well as presentations created for the Mayor & Council and Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (available for 2004-2015).

You can also explore the proposed budget in a more user-friendly format at


Building & Construction
Managed by: Department of Construction, Permitting & Inspections (DCPI), which oversees land use, issues design review permits, and enforces building codes.

Specific requests: building permits; zoning/land use changes and/or variances; information on when construction will happen

Where to find it:
– building permits data
– land use permits data
construction report

Bonus! These data are also available in a more interactive, visual format via My Land Use Map, Shaping Seattle: Buildings, and the privately built/managed Seattle in Progress app, where you can sign up for notifications of when Design Review Board meetings take place for buildings that interest you.


City Planning
Managed by: Office of Planning & Community Development (OPCD), which manages Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan as well as regional initiatives and the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. The Seattle Design Commission and the Seattle Planning Commission are also involved in this process.

Specific requests: vision for the City; plan for sustainable development; plan for affordable housing; population & demographic data

Where to find it:
– City of Seattle Comprehensive Plan
Population & Demographic Data
– Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda

Bonus! You can learn more, see a list of all OPCD initiatives, and find out more about upcoming public meetings on the OPCD web site.


Customer Service
Managed byFinancial & Administrative Services, Customer Service Bureau

Specific requests: responses/feedback as to why non-emergency requests have gone unfulfilled

Where to find it: Right now, we don’t have data from the City’s Customer Service Bureau available. To follow up on a specific request, you’d have to call the City Information and Complaint Line at 206-684-2489.

Bonus! Seattle IT is working with the Customer Service Bureau to figure out how we can close the feedback loop with people who go to the trouble of providing information to us. We welcome your input on how, and the Engage Seattle Consider.It page is a great way to provide it.


Education, Schools and Learning
Managed byDepartment of Education and Early Learning, which funds childcare, preschool, and summer programs, and collaborates with (but does not oversee) Seattle Public Schools.

Specific requests: availability of childcare; information on the City’s engagement with public schools; plan for changing education outcomes; school performance data; curriculum information

Where to find it: Information about all the Department’s programs, including childcare assistance, community-based family support, and the preschool program, is available here.

Bonus! The City of Seattle does not manage curriculum or performance data for Seattle Public Schools, but last year, one of Microsoft’s Civic Technology Fellows created an interactive data visualization for all publicly available Seattle Public Schools data that you can also use to create your own charts and maps. It’s called SPS Interactive.


Managed by: Office of Emergency Management

Specific requests: real-time updates via text message

Where to find it: Alert Seattle, where you can, in fact, sign up to receive alerts from the City in case of emergency.

Bonus! The Office of Emergency Management offers a number of preparedness tools, including this Hazard Explorer map that you can use to check out what kind of emergencies your neighborhood is at greatest risk for. Also check out this new video from OEM on emergency preparedness. I’ve never seen a more adorable Sasquatch.


Environment and Sustainability
Managed byOffice of Sustainability & Environment (OSE)

Specific requests: assessment of clean energy initiatives; public meetings regarding environmental policies; updates on environmental policies

Where to find it: The OSE website has all their relevant reports, including the Equity & Environment Agenda, Seattle’s Climate Action Plan, and a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory that measures the combined impact of several initiatives. The latest inventory shows that total emissions have decreased 6% since 2008 and per-resident emissions have decreased 17%.

Bonus! You can report environmental hazards such as water pollution, air quality concerns, and tree problems directly to OSE – see their website for links. You can also explore the Duwamish River cleanup and report observations along that site using an interactive, open-source civic tech tool, Hey Duwamish.


Managed by: This is a cross-cutting issue with involvement from multiple departments, all reporting to the Office of the Mayor. The main players are the Human Services Department (HSD) and All Home, which is at the King County level.

Specific requests: updates on homelessness policies; what resources are available to someone with an encampment outside their business; prevention efforts; how decisions are being made around tent camping; opportunities for the community to help

Where to find it: The All Home site has rich information focused specifically on homelessness. You can find a list of HSD efforts here.

Bonus! There is a large number of community organizations working on homelessness that are frequently in need of volunteer support, such as Union Gospel Mission, which has a mechanism for volunteer signups online. The WeCount app also makes it easy for people to respond to needs from the community, as does the Homeless in Seattle Facebook page. I encourage anyone who wants to get involved to get to know local organizations and find the one whose work resonates most with you. You can also learn more about our city’s homelessness crisis and approaches to address it on the Seattle Channel.


Managed by: Office of Housing and Human Services Department

Specific requests: tenant rights; information on affordable housing; affordable housing inventory

Where to find it:
– renter’s rights
– rental assistance programs
– resources for those looking for affordable housing.

Bonus! offers up-to-date information about the availability of income-based rentals and landlords that accept housing vouchers.


Managed by: Office of the City Clerk, which maintains official City data, including legislative information.

Specific requests: current and proposed legislation

Where to find it: Seattle.Legistar.Com

Bonus! Seattle’s City Clerk, Monica Martinez Simmons, is committed to making information more easily accessible through technology. Her goal is to “exceed compliance” to ensure that all the public records in her care are easy to find. She recently presented her vision at an Open Seattle Meetup – you can find video of that event here.


Neighborhood Services, Grants and Funding, Volunteering & Participating
Managed by: Department of Neighborhoods (DON) and Office of Arts & Culture

Specific requests: what’s happening in my neighborhood; special events; community events and forums; how residents and businesses can get involved; available resources by location; how to be more involved in my neighborhoods

Where to find it: DON runs many community engagement programs – too many to list here, but the full list is on their site. You can also check out funding opportunities and an event calendar. There are also a number of grants and programs available through the Office of Arts & Culture, including the Neighborhood & Community Arts grant and the Arts in Parks program. Learn more about grants administered by Arts & Culture here.

Bonus! Citygram, a service managed outside the City of Seattle, offers SMS and email updates in several categories that you can constrain to a radius around your address.


Managed by: Parks and Recreation (Parks)

Specific requests: location, hours, and amenities at public spaces; information on wading pools in parks

Where to find it: Parks directly manages their locations’ pages on Google, so if you search for a park (e.g. Discovery Park), hours show up right on the search results pageThe newly redesigned Parks website includes a simple park-finder tool where you can search for features such wading pools. (There’s no information there about when they will be filled or not, but we’ll pass the suggestion along!)

Bonus! Not only has Parks released more than 60 datasets on, the department has gone to great lengths to make its information easy to access. Earlier this year, Parks partnered with Google to take 360-degree photos of parks & trails with the Trekker backpack. The photos will appear in Google Maps. Also, after participating in a hackathon earlier this year, Parks staff partnered with the Seattle Trails Alliance and volunteer developers to create an iPhone app that maps all of Seattle’s official trails. Finally, there are two private apps that make it easier to find information about our parks: TOTAGO, which helps you find trails accessible by public transit, and the map-based web app Seattle Park Finder.


Managed by: Police Department (SPD) and Department of Transportation (SDOT)

Specific requests: safe policing that rewards transparency and community engagement; bike theft data; enforcement of traffic laws for bicycle and pedestrian safety

Where to find it: 
– Seattle is a national leader in crime data transparency, releasing 911 call data every 4 hours
– Seattle is participating in the White House Police Data Initiative, which calls for greater transparency into police operations; no new datasets have been published yet
Bike theft data is published in near real-time (6 to 12 hours after entry into the Record Management System) to
– You can also find it in the interactive crime data dashboard (just filter “Category” to “Larceny-Theft” and “Sub-category” to “Theft-Bicycle” – and add in years you want to see or filter by neighborhood or precinct; you can also click through the graph to see the rows of data it’s based on)
– SDOT publishes a collision map based on data gathered from SPD and the Washington State Department of Transportation on; users can filter the dataset based on collision type (such as “Cycles”)

Bonus! Seattle is a participant in the global Vision Zero initiative to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. SDOT tracks progress on this and reports it out through Additionally, earlier this year, SDOT worked with a team of students in the University of Washington iSchool to create a Vision Zero dashboard that visualizations collisions by type – the center bottom graphic shows a bar chart by year with different colors for vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian collisions. There’s also a map view that’s incredibly easy to use, allowing you to view only the type of collision that interests you. You can select the year in the bottom left-hand corner and use the “F&SI” button to show only fatalities and serious injuries.


Managed by: Seattle Information Technology (IT)

Specific requests: what data they’re collecting; what new technologies they’re adopting; more open data and API’s for Find It Fix It; information on public dollars spent on proprietary software; coordinated information around tech opportunities

Where to find it:
The City of Seattle Privacy Policy outlines the kind of data we collect and for what purpose; the Privacy Program is in the middle of a data inventory that will allow us to know what data is being collected across all our systems
– information on all tech opportunities – including employment, procurement, volunteer opportunities, and openings on the Community Technology Advisory Board – are listed on our website under “opportunities”
– data on IT spending is not currently open, but we are actively working to fulfill this request

Bonus! We recently passed a new open data policy, created a network of Open Data Champions, and hired a new program manager so we can improve the quality and quantity of data available to the public via Seattle currently ranks 8th in the Open Knowledge Foundation’s U.S. Open Data Census – and we are determined to move up. You can learn more about the program and policy at


Managed by: Department of Transportation (SDOT)

Specific requests:
This is a big one, so I created subcategories for this post:
– budget and planning: how funds are being spent; transportation decisions
– public engagement: data from the recent Green Lake RPZ process (preferably in Tableau or similar format)
– vehicle traffic and construction issues: reduction or redirection of traffic flows; street closures (real-time); updates on 99&Mercer construction
– mass transit: info on regional mass transit; updates on public transit, including route changes
– cycling: solutions for bike lanes and road improvement; bicycle infrastructure improvements
– parking: parking decisions near Light Rail; parking regulations (requested in an interactive map format)

Where to find it: First, a quick explainer. Transportation is incredibly complex, largely because of the many agencies involved. Ferries and highways? They’re managed by the state. Bus routes? That’s mostly King County, though the City has paid the County to continue routes that would otherwise have been cut; we also have several other regional transit agencies running buses across county lines. Light Rail? That’s all Sound Transit. What’s left for SDOT? Water taxi, streetcar, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, parking, and street use, which includes managing all the construction that’s going on.

To keep this post from growing to the size of the City website itself, here are the main places to look for existing data:
SDOT’s Twitter account, which notes collisions, special events traffic, and other disruptions, a blog and RSS feed offering regular updates on disruptions
downtown bicycle rack locations (map)
all City bicycle rack locations
a comprehensive (though not interactive) parking map

Ruth Harper has offered to share a Word doc with feedback from the Green Lake RPZ process with anyone who requests it. You can email her at You can also learn more about the process here.

We will pass along your suggestions to our colleagues at SDOT to explore how we can make this information more easily available.

Bonus! Check out the Capital Projects Dashboard, an interactive, user-friendly map of SDOT’s major projects, from transit to paving to pedestrian improvements.


Voting and Elections
Managed by: Ethics & Elections Commission

Requested information: transparency around campaign finance (visual summaries of donor types and amounts)

Where to find it:
all disclosure reports
summary charts
contributor search

Bonus! Earlier this years, a student at Ada Developers Academy built a tool called Lights on Washington that made it easy to explore campaign finance up to the Washington State level. It proved too expensive to sustain, but it shows that it’s possible.


Waterfront Project
Managed by: Office of the Waterfront

Requested information: updates on the viaduct/waterfront redesign project

Where to find it:
budget, schedule, and quarterly project reports
– you can also sign up for updates about the program, the seawall construction, and committee meetings via a form in the website’s lower right-hand corner.

Bonus! There’s also an interactive map where you can explore each element of the project in depth.