Open Data Policy Guidelines


“Open Data” policies have been making their way through legislative bodies and executive orders with increasing frequency, especially since 2009. While those that have passed mark progress and serve as inspiration for other governments and advocates to approach this issue, we’re only just starting to really explore what open data policies can do, what broader issues they can address, and what open data can mean.

To move forward in grappling with those questions, we’ve created this series of Guidelines for Open Data Policies. We intend this more as a “living document” than as model legislation — a menu of options for what can be contained within an open data policy. It provides sample provisional language packed with detailed explanations and use cases, drawn heavily from the important work of our peers in the transparency and open government space. We found the following resources especially helpful (and cite them often): Josh Tauberer’s Open Data is Civic Capital: Best Practice for “Open Government Data”, The 8 Principles of Open Data, Civic Commons’ Open Data Policy wiki page, The Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Handbook, and Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg’s Power of Information Report.

Primarily, though, this collection represents our desire to present a broad vision of the kinds of challenges that open data policies can address. We talk to a lot of policy makers about what they should consider when the question of regulating government data arises, and we decided it would be helpful to create a list of provisions and ideas that they could draw from in crafting their approach. Perhaps in so doing, we could avoid some of the frequent shortfalls and oversights in open data legislation. As more and more open data policies get introduced, it’s important to ground our work as advocates in a broad set of ideas about what is possible.

A few general notes: Although some provisions may carry more importance or heft than others, these Guidelines are not ranked in order of priority. Further, it’s worth repeating that these provisions are only a guide. As such, they do not address a variety of questions one should consider in preparing policies. Instead, we’ve attempted to answer the specific question: What are the different provisions that can or should exist in open data policies?

These Guidelines will feed into our analysis and support of ongoing open data initiatives, and we encourage others to use them, too. Based on feedback and real world application, we’ll continue to refine this document and to promote the best practices (and aspirations) of open data.

We welcome your input.

The Guidelines are accessible online at and can also be downloaded in PDF and ODT.