Frequently Asked Questions


What is LA Counts?

LA Counts is both an open source, open data catalog and a community of civically minded individuals working with open data to effect positive social change throughout Los Angeles County. We highlight specific topics and feature data-related stories about and for LA County. Because LA Counts inventories existing open datasets, we do not host, store, or own the datasets shown on this site. We’re currently in beta and welcome your feedback. To learn even more about LA Counts, please visit our About page, stay up to date with our Blog, and follow us on Twitter.

Who built LA Counts ?

A small, scrappy team funded by California Community Foundation (CCF) has worked with various developers to build LA Counts into an open source, open data tool that is replicable, forkable, community-driven and -supported. CCF has worked for over a century to transform generosity into impact and improve the quality of life for the communities of Los Angeles County, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Dedicated to leading social change to benefit all residents, CCF is the permanent philanthropic endowment for LA County. LA Counts is proud to have their support.

How is LA Counts licensed?

This site is openly licensed. The datasets cataloged on LA Counts are harvested from third-party open data portals, that may impose their own licenses and reuse rights. While we make every effort to display this information, as a failsafe, you should acquaint yourself with their respectives licenses. Likewise, because our stories are culled from and written by the LA Counts community, we recommend a review of their respective copyrights or licensing requirements.

What is open data and why does it matter?

To promote transparency, certain federal and state legislation mandates that specific datasets be made public, or open. Additionally, some private organizations also choose to make their data open. An open dataset is publicly available for use and or redistribution without legal, technological or social restrictions. Open data provide advocates, activists, funders, and policymakers with powerful information that can reveal insights about their communities and government and allow them to make better-informed decisions.

Getting involved

I found incorrect / missing information / a bug, how do I report it?

If you find incorrect or missing information, website bugs, or general feedback, please alert us through the Contact Us form.

How do I submit a data visualization to be shown on the homepage?

Awesome! We’re thrilled that you’d like to share a data visualization with us. Please fill out the Suggest a Story form and the LA Counts team will follow up with you to discuss next steps.

What is a working group?

LA Counts is establishing a model framework for individuals to work with open data in a community-driven, topic-focused way. Our working groups bring like-minded people together to investigate data, ask questions with it, and explore how open data can help identify unmet community needs. Working groups are composed of volunteers interested in specific topics: they are  community-driven and community-governed. Find them on topic pages and on our Get Involved page. All working groups work in the open and share their work publicly in various ways, e.g., visualizations, written stories, reports, policy recommendations, etc.

How can I see the current working groups and join a group?

Please visit Get Involved to view current working groups and follow their progress. It’s easy to join a working group, simply find the one you’re interested in—or create one—connect with members and begin the journey of change. To learn even more and stay on top of other activities, consider joining the LA Counts Google Group mailing list.

How can I contribute to the open source software development of LA Counts?

LA Counts is committed to open source: for that reason, we’re a CKAN-based website. We invite all members of the development community to join our GitHub repository to help contribute to the future of our work. See our Technology section for other ways to get involved.

Events + Volunteer opportunities

How can I find upcoming events?

Please visit our Get Involved page, where you’ll find a list of upcoming LA County (and sometimes national) data-related events.

How can I add a community event to your events calendar?

To post an upcoming data-related event on the LA Counts calendar, please Contact Us and we’ll be in touch.

What are volunteer opportunities?

The volunteer opportunities listed on the LA Counts site are requests made by local organizations (primarily nonprofits) for assistance with data-oriented work like data collection, cleaning, education, and/or analysis. Think of them as opportunities to give back to your community while growing and expanding your data skills working alongside the organizations tackling important issues affecting Los Angeles County.

How can I find volunteer opportunities?

Please visit the Get Involved page, where you’ll find a list of current data-focused volunteer opportunities. There you’ll find contact information that you can use to connect with the organization requesting help.

How can I list a volunteer opportunity on LA Counts?

We’d love to help match your organization with data-experienced volunteers. Please Contact Us and we’ll be in touch.


What is a dataset?

A dataset is a collection of data, most commonly in the form of a table or CSV. Datasets cataloged on LA Counts are available for access or download in one or more formats. Typically, each column of the table represents a field or variable and each row corresponds to an individual piece of data within the dataset that contains information for each field.

What do the fields in the datasets mean?

LA Counts encourages publishers to include data dictionaries alongside their datasets. These dictionaries provide users with context and more details describing the fields and variables found in each dataset. If a data publisher has shared a data dictionary, LA Counts attempts to harvest this content and make it available under the Data and Resources section on the relevant dataset webpage.

How are the datasets on LA Counts collected? Where do they come from?

LA Counts does not host any data, but rather aggregates open data resources in one easy-to-use, centralized location. The datasets cataloged on LA Counts are harvested and aggregated from external CKAN, ESRI GeoPortal, and Socrata data portals that publish APIs. LA Counts aims to inventory for all open datasets that describe some aspect of life in Los Angeles County. If you’d like to help harvest datasets from additional sources, please visit our Github repository.

How do I download and use data from your site?

Only some datasets are directly downloadable from LA Counts, but each dataset webpage contains links to the original data sources where you can find downloadable data. To find the direct download links and other site links, please look for the webpage’s Data and Resources section.

How often are LA Counts datasets updated?

LA Counts catalogs datasets via a nightly harvesting process. If a publisher adds a new dataset or makes changes to an existing one, you can expect LA Counts to reflect these updates within 24 hours.

How can I request that a dataset be created or updated?

If you would like to request additional datasets or updates to existing datasets, please use our Suggest a Dataset form. Please note that in our current beta release, we harvest datasets from external CKAN, ESRI GeoPortal, and Socrata data portals that publish APIs. Please visit the Publishers page for the current list of LA Counts data resources.

Why are the datasets in different formats?

Datasets come in many different file formats. Sometimes the format of a dataset reflects the type of information it contains, for example, a .shp file contains geospatial data. LA Counts is the first site to aggregate the many different datasets relevant to Los Angeles County into one location. Consequently, the datasets here can differ from one another. We're working with you on fixing that. Regardless of the file type, though, LA Counts encourages datasets to be provided in digital, machine-readable formats. For further explanation of common file types, please visit the Open Data Handbook.

Why are some datasets so messy?

LA Counts datasets are presented without alteration or intervention. They are harvested from third-party open data portals with their own data hygiene requirements. LA Counts does not own or host any of the datasets and presents the data as is.

Why is some metadata missing or incomplete?

We understand that dataset quality and utility often depends on accurate metadata. However, data portals and publishers don’t always supply every applicable metadata field, so some metadata fields may appear empty. In some cases, a publisher or portal may document certain metadata fields in ways that CKAN doesn't recognize. LA Counts has created a system to measure basic metadata documentation: the Metadata Completion Rate (explained below). If you have any questions or concerns about metadata, please Contact Us.

What is a Metadata Completion Rate (MCR)?

Metadata are data provided by publishers and portals that describe each dataset. LA Counts developed a set of basic descriptive and structural metadata fields, as well as a companion Metadata Completion Rate (MCR) measure and graphic, as a quick reference tool. For each dataset, LA Counts documents the following basic metadata fields:

  • title
  • description
  • contact name and email
  • format(s)
  • publisher identifier
  • date issued
  • date modified
  • language
  • accrual periodicity
  • spatial extent
  • temporal extent
  • rights
  • landing page
  • provenance

The MCR and colored donut represent what percentage of these basic metadata fields are documented and harvestable from the source publisher or portal.  The tool offers a quick idea of how much metadata exist to describe a particular dataset.

In most cases, LA Counts' source data portals publish some but not all metadata for each dataset. While a user may need more detailed metadata or data dictionary in order to make sense of a dataset, LA Counts' MCR can indicate how well a publisher or portal has documented a particular dataset. Would you like LA Counts to document additional metadata fields? Please contact us.

Data stories

What is a data story?

LA Counts believes in the power of storytelling to animate and enliven data. Data stories help to illuminate the power of open data as a tool for social change. In their analyses, storytellers may uncover insights and reveal nuances hidden in data. We categorize the data-focused stories into the following five ways:

  • data articles
  • data visualizations
  • methodologies
  • community profiles & interviews
  • white papers & research

How can I share my data story with LA Counts?

We’re excited that you’d like to share a data story with LA Counts! Please fill out the Suggest a Story form and the LA Counts team follow up with you.

How do I submit a data visualization to be shown on the homepage?

Excellent! We’re thrilled that you’d like to share a data visualization. Please fill out the Suggest a Story form and the LA Counts team follow up with you. And watch the Get Involved page for regular invitations to develop data visualizations using the datasets found on LA Counts.

What are the LA Counts Community Topics?

LA Counts has selected six community topics—areas of historic importance to California Community Foundation, our initial funder and a permanent endowment for Los Angeles County—in order to highlight relevant datasets and stories. We’re open to adding new topics, so, if you’d like to suggest one, please visit the Contact Us form. For more information about our current approach to automatic topic tagging, please see our Github Repository. In the coming weeks we'll be sharing a blog post that details how our data sources label datasets, and we could use your help!


What datasets does LA Counts catalog?

Please visit the Publishers page for the current list of LA Counts data resources. The datasets cataloged on LA Counts are harvested and aggregated from external websites. LA Counts current beta release harvests datasets from external CKAN, ESRI GeoPortal, and Socrata data portals that publish APIs.

Interested in helping to harvest datasets from additional sources? Great! Please visit our Github repository.

How can I add my organization's data to LA Counts?

Are there data that should be here? Great! To request additional datasets or updates to existing datasets, please use the Suggest a Dataset form. With our current beta release, LA Counts harvests and aggregates datasets from external CKAN, ESRI GeoPortal, and Socrata data portals that publish APIs. Please visit the Publishers page for a complete list of LA Counts’ current data resources.

What data sources are harvestable?

Right now LA Counts supports automatic harvesting from Los Angeles-specific open data portals with these three source types: CKAN; ESRI GeoPortal; and Socrata.

LA Counts technology

What is the technology that drives LA Counts?

LA Counts is built with CKAN, a powerful open-source, open data platform that provides tools to streamline publishing, sharing, finding and using data. LA Counts chose CKAN over other proprietary open data platforms for several reasons: its international acceptance; its open source ethos; and its existing worldwide community. If you’d like to contribute to LA Counts’ CKAN software development, please visit our GitHub repository. For more detailed information about the tech stack, please see the CKAN site.

Do you have a GitHub repository?

Yes! LA Counts has a GitHub repository and we encourage all members of the development community to join in and help contribute to the future of our website.

Do you have a developer API?

Yes! The LA Counts data catalog can be accessed via the CKAN API to search and access individual dataset details. Please visit the CKAN API documentation for full details on how to get started on using the API and the different actions available.

For example, use the package_search action to query the datasets on the site:

	curl -X POST \
		-d '{"q": "zoo", "fq": "organization:city-of-los-angeles", "rows": 10}'

Or, to get the full metadata of an individual dataset:

	curl -X POST \
		-d '{"id": "l-a-zoo-attendance"}'

Or, to get a list of all publishers in the site:

	curl -X POST \
		-d '{"type": "publisher"}'

Where is the data held?

LA Counts aggregates datasets and stories relevant to LA County but does not host, store, or own the data. LA Counts points (or refers) to other data sources as a way of encouraging the exploration and continued development of existing Los Angeles dashboards, portals, and tools.

What is open source software?

Open source software is a “decentralized software development model that encourages open collaboration,” relies heavily on peer production and produces publicly available code. Anyone can freely copy, modify or redistribute the source code of open source software.