Governments are publishing their datasets, eager to share the rich value of the data they have. It’s not always easy for citizens to make sense of and use this data, however.

A new website has been built to help citizens, businesses and policymakers understand and visualise data published by the United States Government. The project, called Data USA, is by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

The tool is the “the most comprehensive website and visualization engine of public US Government data”, its website says. It uses interactive graphics, charts and maps to make it easier for people to interpret data without specialist skills.

The website has inverted the way government open data sites usually present data. It shows visualisations first, which tell the story, and then allows users to click through to the underlying data.

The key lesson is that citizens need to understand what the data means before they can use it. Most government sites in the region present the raw data first, and then introduce the option to visualise it.

Data USA also provides APIs – Application Programming Interfaces – which allow users to integrate the visualisations and data from Data USA on other services, which means that citizens are free to add to and improve on this existing tool.

The data is divided into four “profiles” by which users can search for data – location, industries, occupations and education.

Searching for ‘Restaurant & Food Services’ shows key figures that someone looking for a job in the food industry or starting a new restaurant may want to know. For example, it shows the average salary, highest paid jobs, wage by location and sources of costs for businesses.

Data USA helps citizens understand government data, and shows governments how they can do it with their own data portals.

Visit Data USA here: datausa.io