Participating in The Census Opportunity Project

Participating in The Census Opportunity Project

In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau launched The Opportunity Project, “a process for engaging government, communities, and the technology industry to create digital tools that address our greatest challenges as a nation”.

Each year, The Opportunity Project (TOP) connects government agencies, technologists, and communities to collaboratively work through 12-week technology development sprints to tackle a variety of problem statements, using open data, and create digital tools that help strengthen American economic opportunity. Technologists work with stakeholders, end users, and product advisors to build tools and apps, which are unveiled at the end of the sprint during Demo Day, at the Census headquarters.

Census Opportunity Project

The Challenge

This past year, Spatial Networks had the privilege to work on a sprint team tasked with working closely with the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Transportation to help Tribal, State, and Local Governments with local address data collection. More specifically, our challenge was to develop resources to help stakeholders create and maintain open address point data.

The Problem Statement

Many state and local governments do not have a database of addresses with geospatial coordinates (also known as address point data), which is critical for high priority issues like emergency response. In some cases, where the governments have address point data, it is not openly available due to propriety or legal constraints. Many state and local governments do not have the resources to plan, implement, and maintain address point data collection activities. Resources needed to overcome data collection challenges include software tools, starter data, human capital, collection processes and guidelines, and data system integration.

The Importance of Open Address Data

Accurate open address data is important at all levels of government for a variety of different purposes. At the Tribal, State, and Local level, this data is used to help meet the immediate needs of residents and businesses during catastrophic events, when traditional infrastructure such as street signs and landmarks may no longer be visible. At the Federal level, the USDOT relies on address data for the National 911 Program, the Census Bureau uses it to support citizen counts and surveys, and other departments depend on address information for mail delivery, land use planning, public health, and other vital services.

Leveraging a SaaS Data Collection Platform

Rather than building a bespoke product or custom application to meet this challenge, we proposed leveraging our existing data collection platform, Fulcrum, which has been successfully deployed since 2011 by commercial users as well as the humanitarian and disaster response communities.

Fulcrum Community

The Fulcrum Community program was designed for this type of deployment, where open data needs to be rapidly collected or disseminated by field users, in support of disaster response or other humanitarian assistance endeavors. The advantages of leveraging an existing data collection platform to tackle this challenge are numerous, but I’ve highlighted several key benefits below.

Fulcrum Community is commercially supported, but available free of charge for qualified deployments.

Our commercial customers help subsidize Fulcrum Community deployments by contributing to the recurring revenue that funds continued product development, hosting infrastructure, and our support team.

It’s built on a cloud-based infrastructure with nothing to install, configure, or maintain.

Many free and open source products require a high level of technical proficiency to get up and running. The user is expected to configure the various components and manage the hosting and deployment of the tools. The infrastructure powering Fulcrum is always available and the mobile apps are readily downloadable from the mobile app stores.

Our mobile apps were designed from the ground up for capturing data in offline environments and syncing to the cloud when network connectivity is available.

The mobile landscape is rapidly changing and apps need continual attention to keep up with operating system updates, design pattern trends, and security concerns. The Fulcrum Android and iOS mobile apps are battle tested daily, with a global user community relying on them to work around the clock and in a variety of challenging environments.

Built-in tools for sharing both app templates and data feeds.

Our App Gallery makes it easy to share standard forms with the entire Fulcrum user base, so everyone can collect compatible data, even if they aren’t a part of your Community organization. Once the data hits the Fulcrum server, it can be made available to external stakeholders in a variety of open formats and modern protocols, including CSV, GeoJSON, KML, shapefile, and more.

Our Approach

Leveraging Fulcrum Community allowed us to focus completely on the key tasks outlined in meeting the challenge objectives:

  • Design a data collection form to capture address data in the National Address Database (NAD) Schema.
  • Make it easy to import existing NAD data for reference in the field and on the ground during an event.
  • Reference existing resources, including NAIP imagery, the US National Grid, building and parcel footprints, etc.

NAD Status

The U.S. Department of Transportation, in recognizing the need for accurate and up-to-date addresses, developed the National Address Database (NAD), which includes a data schema, defining all attribute fields and domains, as well as a downloadable extract of the current address database. To date, USDOT has received address data from 22 state partners and has transformed approximately 45.5 million address points into the NAD schema.

Building the Data Collection Form

Using the NAD Schema as a blueprint, it was easy to visually build out the form with matching field names, standard choice list values, and appropriate visibility and requirement conditions.

NAD Addresses App

Importing Existing Address Data

One of the biggest challenges we faced was working with the existing NAD extract. All 45.5 million address points have been loaded into an ESRI File Geodatabase, which is made available for download. Working with this massive file is nearly impossible, but we were able to use FME to extract a subset of the records for ZIP Code 20746 (Suitland, MD) and we exported these ~7k records into a CSV file for import into our Fulcrum app.

Integrating Other Resources

The NAD specification includes a field for the U.S. National Grid (USNG) coordinates of the address. The USNG is a nationally consistent grid-based reference system designed to “increase the interoperability of location services with printed map products”. We were able to calculate the USNG coordinates in the data collection form by integrating an open source JavaScript library using Fulcrum Data Events.

We also added USDA NAIP Imagery and USNG Grids as custom layers to provide additional context in the field.

NAD Mobile App

TOP Demo Day

We joined numerous other technology providers, including IBM, Microsoft, and TomTom, in presenting our results during Demo Day at the Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, MD. The digital tools created for The Opportunity Project range from websites and mobile apps to video games and communication tools that tackle a number of challenges in addition to address data collection, including disaster response, connecting veterans to jobs, student access to STEM fields, addressing the opioid crisis, and more.

Below is a video of the Demo Day livestream. Our EVP of Government Solutions, Brian Monheiser, discusses our sprint initiative at the 43:35 mark.

Takeaways

It’s great to see these government innovation programs focusing on collaboration with the technology industry to tackle real challenges. Getting stakeholders involved early, particulary on disaster response initiatives, is often the toughest part, but another real concern is who will maintain these projects after the initial sprint and Demo Day event. The biggest benefit of leveraging a highly customizable and rapidly deployable SaaS platform like Fulcrum is the ability to let stakeholders focus directly on their work, without having to worry about software development, deployment, maintenance, or other IT hurdles.

Our NAD Address data collection app is available now on the Fulcrum App Gallery. You can add it to your own Fulcrum organization or use it to contribute data during an active Fulcrum Community deployment. If you are interested in learning more about Fulcrum Community, or any of our other humanitarian assistance and disaster response initiatives, please contact us!

About the author

Bryan is our Product Manager for Fulcrum. He works to identify new markets and features in which to grow the platform.

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