MetaCat: A Window Into Your Data.

NYC Opportunity
NYC Opportunity
Published in
3 min readMar 8


It is no simple task to document data in ways that can easily be understood. Too often, information about data — for example, its origin, quality, meaning or use — may be hard to come by. When this critical information is missing, we realize that data documentation is as essential as the data itself.

A data, or rather, metadata, catalog is a crucial tool for managing data documentation and making data accessible. It helps users focus on the information about data — the metadata.

New York City government agencies create and manage a lot of data. Centralizing the documentation of that data can seem like a herculean task. To help tackle this challenge, the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) developed MetaCat -– a digitized template that can be used to document, organize, and search information about data assets that are owned, managed or used across City agencies. With MetaCat, users can document and share information about many kinds of data assets, such as legal agreements for data sharing, source systems, or a data set.

*The introductory release of MetaCat is currently only available to City agencies and users who have access to the City network.

MetaCat Key Features

MetaCat data asset categories include data sets, data source systems, data products and services, and data sharing agreements. For people interested in documenting and sharing information about data assets, our templates capture essential information about the asset.

For instance, MetaCat fields include general information describing the asset, where it resides, the agency that owns or manages it, how the data can be used, and subject matter experts who can offer in-depth understanding of the data. It also accepts file uploads so that documents that have previously been curated can simply be attached to the asset entry for download by the end-user. Other key functions include:

  • Keyword tagging and search by asset type, subject, or keyword.
  • Custom documentation templates for each asset type: data sets, data systems, data products, data services, and data sharing agreements.
  • User role management to distinguish users with administrative, publish, edit or read-only rights.
  • Permissions control to restrict how the asset may be searched or viewed.
  • File upload to attach existing documents to a data asset entry.
  • Governance console to manage data asset entry by group or agency.
  • Asset link feature to link related assets within the catalog.
  • File template and feature to bulk import data fields.

As we continue to refine MetaCat, NYC Opportunity will focus on expanding its infrastructure and developing core standards for documentation. We are always gathering feedback to ensure MetaCat is designed with users in mind.

MetaCat serves multiple City audiences. Data analysts and researchers can use MetaCat to explore information about data sets they may want to use, all before beginning their analysis. For example, users may find variable definitions, and data collection information.

Additionally, using MetaCat to share metadata helps leadership, program staff and even agency attorneys find crucial historical information about how past data sharing projects were enacted.

Cataloging information can help accelerate pathways for new sharing agreements. We may not be able to take the slog out of keeping up with data documentation, but we aim to make it easier and accessible. A good metadata catalog helps ensure that data can be used and understood.

The Enterprise Data Solutions (EDS) team at NYC Opportunity helps access, integrate and analyze data to develop more effective services and inform policy decisions and programmatic designs. The team views data as a protected asset that can be responsibly leveraged across digital products to support analytical initiatives, facilitate knowledge sharing, and develop business strategy.