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Utah Introduces Open Data Bill, Invites Public Into the Drafting Process

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What if the information that you usually have to “FOIA” or ask your government for under your state’s public records law was made “easily accessible on a single, centralized, searchable resource hub”? That’s the question Utah State Senator Diedre Henderson asked yesterday in a blog post introducing the work going into Utah’s first open data legislation.

Sunlight has been working along with Senator Henderson and a coalition of open government advocates, local technology experts, and others over the last month to help define the principles and important questions that this legislation will address. I’ve included the outlined principles below, but you can find the full narrative about them in Senator Henderson’s post here.

Looking over the approach the coalition decided to take, we are thrilled to see that Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Guidelines have played such a strong role in helping the coalition define the goals for their legislation and think broadly about the role of open data in state operations.

This bill comes at an interesting crossroads in Utah’s history: At the same time that the government has turned concentrated attention toward their web presence and data publishing, it has also acted antagonistically towards its public records law (known locally as "GRAMA"). In 2011, the state legislature came very close to rolling back the amount of information that lawmakers had to make public about their official communications and correspondence, prompting public outcry. Although the proposed changes were ultimately defeated, it was an eye-opening experience for members of government and the public alike. As part of the reconciliation process, a working group of legislators, staff, open software experts, and representatives of the media and public conducted a series of studies to better understand the needs and challenges faced by all parties in seeking (and sharing) public information, with a particular eye toward electronic disclosure.

It’s a great sign that former members of this working group are joining together as part of the open data bill drafting process -- and that this process is being made open to the public. Utahns who are interested in getting involved should be sure to take up the invitation to share your thoughts and contribute. (More info here.)

Here are the foundational principles informing the open data bill that Senator Henderson listed in her blogpost:

1. Establish open formats

  • Define and standardize open formats for government data
  • Require any public information to be posted on the Internet
  • Remove restrictions on reuse of information
  • Appropriately safeguard sensitive information (as defined by GRAMA)
  • Require exemptions to open data policy to be balance-tested against the public interest (as currently defined by GRAMA)

2. Ensure open access

  • Create permanent, lasting access to government data
  • Publish bulk data
  • Create public APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for accessing information
  • Remove restrictions for accessing government information

3. Implement thoughtful systems

  • Create processes to ensure data quality
  • Create a public, comprehensive list of all information holdings
  • Define process for continuous publication and updates to data
  • Create new oversight authority to review implementation of the requirements

4. Require the publishing of metadata or other documentation

  • Utilize best practice considerations in crafting the plan for implementation of the bill itself and all its provisions
  • Set appropriately ambitious timelines for implementation
  • Ensure sufficient funding for implementation
  • Empower the creation of binding rules to implement the new policy
  • Incorporate public perspectives into policy implementation
  • Define process for future review for potential changes to this policy or law

5. Mandate the disclosure of specific new information (as defined by GRAMA)

  • Identify public data not currently made available online
  • Define and implement process for making additional public data available
  • Define timeline and benchmarks for accountability
  • Define best practices for implementation of e-filing processes

6. Encourage accountability

  • Recognize existing best practices of accountability, efficiency and openness
  • Review best practices and encourage broader implementation
  • Invite civic engagement
  • Build on existing public accountability policies to best utilize existing information hubs
  • Define and implement structural data standards and format review