Exploring New York City’s and Boston’s Open Data Policies

Moving forward, both cities will further embrace transparency as part of their IT strategies.

New York City and Boston have recently collaborated in drafting open data policies, which were shared last month.

Lacking a plan, Boston looked to New York for guidance. “In Boston, we just haven’t had a formal policy around [data sharing],” the city’s chief information officer (CIO) Jascha Franklin-Hodges told StateScoop. “As we ran into particularly thorny issues, [we’d ask], ‘What is New York doing? What’s their approach to this?’”

Franklin-Hodges got to know New York City chief analytics officer Amen Ra Mashariki after the two attended several of the same events. According to Mashariki, Franklin-Hodges eventually reached out regarding open data solutions. “He’s engaged me on several efforts, and I think a lot of it is around two things: ‘How can we get a lot of data out, what that strategy should be?’ and a lot of questions about how to ensure quality of the data,” Mashariki said.

Boston’s need for a new policy was motivated by Mayor Martin Walsh’s 2014 request for a policy on managing open data. After getting off to a quick start, the process stalled until earlier this year. When Franklin-Hodges’ department revisited the issue, they were tasked with creating a policy that adhered to legal guidelines without using language that would alienate the public. They eventually produced the “Open and Protected Data Policy,” which combines the location of certain city data with an explanation of why other city data will not be universally available.

Rather than create an entirely new policy, New York simply updated the one it already had in place. A 2012 law signed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg mandated that the city’s agencies share their data on a public portal by 2018. The policy, under the new name “Open Data for All,” was refurbished to better sync with current Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initiatives.

The goal is to make data easier for the public to interpret. As Mashariki noted, “It’s about, ‘How do we get not only more people to use it, but more people to know about it and more people to appreciate it and more people to contribute?’” New York City also plans to share another 90 data sets by year’s end and will make information available on the portal more visually appealing.

Boston’s and New York City’s new plans may not be identical, but both share a commitment to transparency that is seen as an important element of each city’s future IT strategy.

Sep 08 2015