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Best Practices: On Mad Libs & The Power of Open Data

We think there’s a lot to be said for unconventional approaches to community planning. Take a concept like “open data” or a phrase like “community planning session” & replace it with something more appealing or mysterious, and the information you collect might be more honest than the average.

So what are we getting at, here?

There’s a website called created by New York City based nonprofit Open Plans, and we think they’ve got the right idea.

The website asks one simple question by way of three fill in the blanks. A Mad Lib, if you will:

What change could you bring with the right information about your neighborhood?

If we knew __________, then we could __________, in __________.

Created to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of New York City’s open data policy, highlights the power & potential of open data. Anyone, no matter what city they call home, is invited to participate. Responses are then curated and sent to Twitter. By sharing the stories they collect, Open Plans hopes other cities will consider the benefits of open data.

New York City’s open data policy was approved in March of 2012, starting that all data must be readily available to the public without any restrictions on its use. By 2018, all databases have to be ready to go public. It’s one of the most progressive open data policies of its kind in the U.S. While many are impatient for 2018, the policy is a big step in the right direction.

We learned a lot of great things at Muster Plan – who the upper peninsula community is and who it’s not, what they care about and why they care – and we were so inspired by all of the responses. We want to be open with this “data”, because while it’s helpful for Enough Pie, it’s even more important for the community as they gear up for action. If you haven’t already, give the Muster Plan report a look.

So we’ve got question for you: What do you want to know about the inner-workings of the upper peninsula? If Charleston had an open data policy, what would you ask about this area of town? How would you use it to make an impact?

Go to and fill out your own response. Using the hashtag #CHSUP for the “in” blank, tell us what gaps need to be filled, what questions are lurking in the back of your mind & how you would use open data to meet some of the needs expressed at Muster Plan. We’ll be following closely!


To check out the stories Open Plans has collected so far, follow @IfWeKnew_. For more information about New York City’s open data policy, click here.

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