Setting the (Legal) Standard for Open Data

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San Francisco is often thought of as the utopian edge of open government development: The city boasts the first city-level open data law in the United States, has its own app store, and even had 8 out of 9 mayoral candidates sign onto an Open Government Pledge (drafted by CityCamp alum) during this year’s race. But Adriel Hampton, a long time opengov advocate, connector, and CityCamp San Francisco lead, thinks his city — and state — can do one better. Adriel and other Gov 2.0 advocates want both San Francisco and California to institute an open data standard — that is, a legal definition of open data — and they’re kicking off a campaign at this weekend’s upcoming CityCampSF Hackathon to see it through.

You may be asking yourself why, after already passing an open data law, tech-savvy San Fran needs such a standard. One example the “Structured Open Data Campaign” campaign cites is that the SF open data law mentioned above, although available online, is posted as a non-searchable PDF — a file format considered less than ideal (read: out of sync with most definitions of “open”) for use by developers, researchers, and the rest of us. According to the campaign, the problems go even further:

Often when documents and data are published online, they cannot be accessed or used in a meaningful fashion because they cannot be searched, indexed by Google, or combined in a meaningful way with other documents for analysis. I want to tackle this not by mandating that certain documents and data be published online, but simply by creating a reference standard so that when new mandates pass, or new documents are published online as a matter of course under existing law or regular business, they are in accessible formats.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but not one entirely without precedent. Activists, developers, and wonks have been working on and sharing open standards for years. (Check out this Civic Commons wiki round-up of Open Data Policies, our Open States best practices guidelines for open legislative data, and the 10 Principles of Open Data, for a taste.)

Right now, you can get involved by joining Sunlight and over 100 other opengov and transparency advocates in endorsing the campaign, signing up to volunteer, and learning more about the cause. Head over to the campaign’s homepage for more information, and while you’re there, be sure to read the briefing document sent to potential legislative sponsors to get good insight into the background, associated costs, and more.

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