Library of user personas for open data

Explore user personas that cities and data intermediaries have developed.

This library tracks and collects currently existing user personas, a human-centered design tool that open data programs are beginning to use to understand their users and communicate about their needs and behaviors. User personas are informative user research composites. When technologists design open data portals, they can use personas as a tool to keep in mind how real people might approach their product.

Each set of personas in the library varies in granularity according to need — from sector-specific departmental initiatives to citywide objectives, to regional collaboration and data sharing. Open data user personas are a valuable product of and asset to the Refine stage of the Tactical Data Engagement framework.

Do you have personas for open data that aren’t here? Email us at

Madison, WI

In November 2017, Sunlight's Open Cities team conducted Tactical Data Engagement in Madison to help translate community input on neighborhood development into action. Leveraging the work of Imagine Madison, a community-driven planning project addressing neighborhood equity, Sunlight worked with Reboot to develop a set of user personas representing stakeholders in Madison's neighborhoods.

See Sunlight's “Understanding Madison's Data Users”

See about Open Data and Equitable Neighborhoods

See Sunlight's “Activating Communities: Open Data User Research”

New York, NY

The New York City Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics helped to establish Open Data for All, a 2015 initiative to extend the open data portal to more residents. With this initiative in mind, the Office of Technology and Innovation asked civic design firm Reboot to find out who the current and potential users of open data are. Reboot then conducted research to design personas, which helped to identify a pipeline from current to potential open data users so more people can be involved in community problem solving.

See the City of New York's report, “Understanding the Users of Open Data”

See the Case Study from Reboot

Central Ohio

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) is an association of more than 60 local governments serving Central Ohio. As the metropolitan planning organization and regional council for a region of approximately 2 million residents, one of MORPC’s core roles is as a data intermediary that collects data from and provides data to partners throughout the region. Endeavoring to gauge user needs at the regional level, they carried out an extensive research project that culminated in a set of Central Ohio data user personas. The personas are designed to help MORPC, and other data providers in the region, integrate user-centered design into their efforts to increase the impact of the data resources they develop.

See the comprehensive MORPC Research Paper on Central Ohio Data Users

Norfolk, VA

In recent years, flooding has become a persistent issue in Norfolk — making major roads inaccessible even when the city is not experiencing weather-related flooding emergencies, which can destroy property and cause backlogs in services. The City of Norfolk was eager to see how their new open data program could help respond to these issues, and reached out to the Sunlight Foundation to find a community-centered open data solution. The City used Tactical Data Engagement methods to support those residents working to address flooding and build a more resilient Norfolk.

Read our case study

Pittsburgh, PA

The Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center (WPRDC), a data intermediary, created a set of personas to better understand the context and problems of people that access the data they administer. WPRDC focused on understanding goals, skills, and technical ability of data users based on their experience of interactions with users. The result is a creative set of personas that helps WPRDC staff think about the region’s data needs.

See All WPRDC Personas

Always Already Computational: Collections as Data

Always Already Computational: Collections as Data is a group led by librarians and archivists from academic institutions. Through conferences and projects they develop resources to support creating and providing access to machine actionable library, archive, and museum collections. The team ran a workshop at the 2017 DLF forum and interacted with a range of data users, producers, and stewards in order to develop a diverse set of personas.

See more information about the Collections as Data Personas

See details about the Always Already Computational: Collections as Data Workshop

Austin, TX (General)

The City of Austin’s Open Data Initiative developed personas based on open data users in 2016 ongoing “open data sprint” to guide the City in the process of retooling the open data portal to meet growing and changing needs. One of the outcomes of this project was to create standard requirements for open data sets that allow for ongoing evaluation.

Open Data Product Evaluations

Deliverables from the Open Data Portal User Research Project

Austin, TX (Homelessness)

Austin’s city council identified ending homelessness as a priority. The Sunlight Foundation worked with Austin’s innovation team to identify ways to use data and community insights to drive housing placement for currently existing city programs. After conducting user discovery, Sunlight helped the innovation team to develop user personas pertaining to the housing and homelessness sector.

View the Innovation Office presentation “Homelessness Data and Information”

Austin, TX (Data & Homelessness)

The user personas below are based on the Austin Innovation Team’s existing research on user personas, adapted to represent open data or information users. The term “data users” refers to both current data users but also stakeholders who could potentially use data or information to address a challenge related to homelessness.

See the report on Austin's recommended actionable opportunities

Los Angeles, CA

The Mayor's office in the City of Los Angeles reviewed existing open data user personas from other cities to create personas that represent their own residents. The office made sure to emphasize users with limited technical ability, and the city is currently at work on a number of projects including an open data literacy program to make data more accessible to this set of user personas.

See the landscape analysis supporting the user personas

Glendale, AZ (Development Services)

The Sunlight Foundation conducted Tactical Data Engagement in Glendale, Arizona to help them increase transparency in procurement processes. Sunlight's Open Cities team engaged relevant stakeholders, and synthesized insights into several user personas that pertain to open data needs regarding city contracting.

Read Sunlight's “Sustainable Data Engagement Recommendations”

Glendale, AZ (Open Contracting)

The Sunlight Foundation worked with Harvard's Government Performance Lab (GPL) to provide the city of Glendale, AZ with recommendations for implemeting an open contracting strategy. Sunlight and GPL created personas from site visits and interviws to support the open contracting recommendations.

Read Sunlight's “Open Contracting Data Strategies: Recommendations for Glendale, AZ”