The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set out to make the public data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act easy to use. My team was charged with figuring out how.
From 2013-2015, I was one of the inaugural Design & Technology Fellows at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an innovative new federal agency. I led the design team for the Public Data Platform. The vision was to make all the public data that the CFPB produces or consumes easily available on the consumerfinance.gov website and through an API. On the backend, our developers were creating Qu, an open source data platform to easily serve large sets of data. On the front end, my team worked with regulators, researchers, and external stakeholders to create a site to serve up data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, or HMDA.
Under HMDA, data about millions of home mortgage applications every year get released to the public. The purpose of the act is to help government, lenders, and community members to see trends in mortgage lending, and possibly spot discriminatory lending patterns. When we began our work, though, it was only really accessible to specialists. Our goal was to make the insights from HMDA available and understandable for the average citizen, while creating tools for complex sorting and filtering that would help subject-matter experts dive into the data more easily.
We tackled the problem by doing something very unusual for government: starting with the user. We took input from people and groups currently using HMDA data, and those who couldn’t access it on their own. In synthesis workshops, we came up with three core user types: the interested citizen, the data investigator, and the technical expert. Through rounds of iterative user testing, we refined the interactive information visualizations, the sorting and filtering mechanisms, and the API documentation. When the site launched in September 2013, it was praised for its user-friendliness and accessibility, and today it’s used by state government, researchers, and curious website visitors alike.
For a fuller version of the HMDA data story, please see my talk, “Public Data for the People,” presented at UX Australia in 2015.
Launch of HMDA data site by CFPB Director Cordray in September 2013; API was made public in January 2014, now used by industry and state and local governments
HMDA site video won a Clearmark Award of Distinction for plain language, 2013
HMDA API documentation serves now as the model for continuing API documentation created by 18F and the US Digital Service
Qu data platform given a Code For America Technology award in 2015.