UMass Lowell, Boston Foundation Head New National Consortium

02/25/2009
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ UMass Lowell and the Boston Foundation have announced the formation of the Open Indicators Consortium, a national effort dedicated to improving access to important data about communities and regions.

The consortium is developing a new open-source software system that will provide user-friendly methods to analyze and present economic, social and environmental data, or indicators, at the neighborhood, municipal, county and regional levels.

Open Indicators is led by UMass Lowell professors Georges Grinstein, director of the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research, and William Mass, director of the Center for Industrial Competitiveness. Joining them from the Boston Foundation is Charlotte Kahn, director of the Boston Indicators Project. Other founding members of the group include organizations from Atlanta, Boston, Columbus, Phoenix, Chicago and New Haven, each of which will contribute to the funding of the joint initiative and will guide the software development based on their local preferences and needs. The consortium’s initial funding is about $900,000 over two years.

“With the intensifying economic and political challenges of our times, improving timely access to information for the public and decision makers in all arenas is increasingly important,” says Mass. “The visualization of data in graphs, plots, charts and maps is a powerful approach for making complex information about multi-dimensional problems more manageable and better understood.”

“Efficiency and sustainability are key challenges facing the nation,” says Holly St. Clair, director of data services at the Boston-based Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “However data centers are tightening their belts. This tool is a sophisticated yet cost-effective way to help us see how our communities are doing, despite the downturn.”

The system will be browser-based, so it requires no special software and facilitates collaboration by simultaneous users at different sites for joint development, technical assistance and training.

“The consortium’s effort democratizes access to data and software and will extend the capabilities of organizations providing support to a broad range of users, from researchers, planners, educators and the media to the general public,” says Mass.

Lending their expertise to the project are computer science professors Cindy Chen and Jesse Heines, post-doctoral fellow Jianping Zhou, project manager Mary Beth Smrtic and project architect Alex Baumann. Also assisting the consortium are graduate students from the computer science and regional economic and social development departments, as well as staff at the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research and the Center for Industrial Competitiveness.
 
“This community of open-source practitioners and developers will support innovation regionally, nationally and internationally, and the freely available software will have great impact on increasing the public’s access to data,” says Grinstein.

The consortium hopes to establish fully operational Web sites in each participating region by the end of 2009. For more information, contact Grinstein at grinstein@cs.uml.edu or 978-934-3627, or Mass at William_Mass@uml.edu or at 978-934-4245.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region.. UML offers its 12,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu

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