Mar 30 2017

4 Ways to Build a More Effective Open Data Program

Building transparency and delivering more effective services are just a few of the ways well-built open data programs can improve a city.

Open data initiatives are helping local governments everywhere establish trust and transparency while garnering greater resident participation and accessibility to resources. And they are launching everywhere.

In early February, with the aim to increase transparency throughout the state, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that requires all state agencies to enact data transparency.

Meanwhile, in the city of Salinas, Calif., armed with a new $2.3-million records-management software system, the government is embarking on an open data and civic engagement initiative that targets neighborhood safety, The Californian reports. The project aims to organize data in a presentable and useable way on the city’s recently overhauled website in order to engage more deeply with the public. It will also result in the creation of an open data policy.

“We are in the age of big data and open data. A lot of people think of big cities and what they are doing internationally. You hear about Shanghai, London, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but really the movement for data and new technology has come through the big-sized cities to at least 100 other cities across the country,” said Salinas’ City Manager Ray Corpuz Jr. at a press conference.

But as cities embark on new open data policies, it’s important to understand how to securely and effectively implement open data initiatives.

1. Get a Chief Data Officer

The New Jersey Open Data Initiative doesn’t just set forth rules around new data sharing standards, it also solidifies the chief data officer position, placing New Jersey CDO Liz Rowe in control of the open data initiative.

Rowe has been active in her role since 2015, telling Government Technology that she was originally brought onboard to develop a strategy to define and manage enterprise data. Now, with the new law, she will use her authority to develop a data-set format standard across all agencies, share best practices and more.

"The initiative will help us drive the development of common standards and governance across the executive branch," Rowe told the publication.

CDOs can help to ensure all public data is published in a timely manner, and to encourage public participation around the data as it is released and updated, providing regular opportunities for feedback and collaboration, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. The foundation uses technology and policy analysis to improve government transparency and accountability. It has released recommendations around building more effective open data policies for cities.

2. Establish an Easy-to-Use Website

With transparency and community engagement as the aim of open data, governments should be sure to place all open data on a publicly available city website, and be sure to maintain it.

But some cities are going even further. In Riverside, Calif., officials are going beyond portals by creating a municipal apps page, dedicated to hosting Android and iPhone apps that offer easy access to data sets, including “311 requests, geolocated landmarks around town, or public meeting agendas,” according to an article on the Sunlight Foundation’s website.

3. Cater to Your Citizens

Open data has tons of creative uses, but needs differ across localities.

In Los Angeles, a city that issues more than 2.4 million parking tickets annually, the government launched an open data portal in January that aims to give residents insight into where and when to park. According to an article on 21st Century State, the website provides drivers with information on the most common times and reasons that violations are issued.

“As much as we’d like to reduce parking fines, we currently rely on the revenues,” said Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin in a press release. “Rather than just cut ticket prices now, we should instead invest in new solutions that will help to reduce administrative costs, and give people a clearer indication whether they can park in a spot — so as to not get a ticket in the first place.”

4. Report and Review Your Open Data Strategy

Once a year, be sure to assess and report the city’s open data strategy, including “an assessment of how the city’s open data work has furthered or will further the city’s programmatic priorities, and a description and publication timeline for datasets envisioned to be published by the city in the following year,” according to the Sunlight Foundation.

The results of the report will allow a city to ensure city officials and open data projects are actively working toward achieving the city’s open data goals.


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