Census data is some of the most valuable and widely applicable data that the federal government produces. However, it is not always easy to apply or to mashup with other datasets. The U.S. Census Bureau and others developed CitySDK to help bridge that gap, particularly for developers and others working in civic tech.

As the CitySDK website describes it, “The CitySDK is a collaboration between the US Census Bureau, the Department of Commerce, HUD, USDA, and other agencies in the federal government. The goal is to support civic innovation and streamline the development of applications that use open data. . . . [Census] data helps city planners and development officers better allocate their investments, businesses optimize their operations, and non-profits to understand if their programs are being successful. To fulfill the vision of making Census data as easy to use as possible in the digital age, the Census Bureau built the CitySDK (software development kit), after inspiration from a project under the same name in the [European Union].”

The website points out that Census data may have its greatest value when combined with other datasets, for example, by combining Census data on median income with USDA data on SNAP retailers. To make it easier to combine Census with other data in this way, the CitySDK “solves that usability problem by providing a toolset that abstracts multiple APIs that reside under the hood. From a technical perspective, the SDK allows for data retrieval from different silos, geocoding, caching of large datasets, and mapping – all within a simple programming approach.”