Oakland’s Public Participation Route to Open Data Legislation


Steve Spiker and Eddie Tejeda (open data policy advocates) sharing Open Oakland’s work at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire.

Oakland passed an open data law earlier this month (October 15, 2013) that was generated quite literally by the people, for the people. Open Oakland, Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf, the Urban Strategies Council, and open government supporters around the country joined forces to draft and chat the best open data policy for Oakland, in a truly open and collaborative format. In addition to garnering support for the open data policy, the greater Oakland community led greatly by the charge of Open Oakland captain, Steve Spiker (Spike), cultivated the policy from start to finish through drafting, public comments, a call to experts, and a [teleconferenced] round table. The Oakland public input process serves as an excellent example of the community’s role in generating open data policy, and an exemplar route to incorporating public perspectives into policy. The Sunlight Foundation’s Guideline to incorporating public perspective into policy implementation reads as follows:

Implementing the details of an open data policy will benefit from public participation. Open data policies not only have effects government-wide, which will require consideration, but also have consequences for a variety of stakeholder groups outside of the government. Allowing these groups to participate in the decision-making process (and make real contributions) can have great benefits for policy creation and execution. Stakeholders and experts can bring to the table valuable new perspectives that highlight challenges or opportunities that might not otherwise be obvious. Formal mechanisms for collaboration can include hearings, draft proposals open for public comment and contribution, and online resources like wikis and email lists.

Below we have outlined Oakland’s public participation process and how it is part of a growing trend to openly include community perspective, desires, and concerns into open data policy.

Oakland’s Open Data Policy Public Participation Process

The road to open data policy in Oakland took time and the collaboration of the city council, local civic hackers, and non-profit groups all aligned in open data support to create. Open Oakland is the Code for America brigade chapter in Oakland, California. This brigade uniquely hosts their civic hack nights in Oakland’s City Hall. Open Oakland, Spike, and Councilmember Libby Schaaf, have been calling for an open data policy for the last few years. See their timeline to open data legislation (via Councilmember Schaaf’s presentation during the National League of Cities “Open Data: City Policies to Promote Transparency, Efficiency, and Engagement” webinar) below:

In 2013, Spike and Open Oakland updated the open data draft policy and post it online in Google Docs with a call for public comments. Then, in partnership with the low-income community focused non-profit, Urban Strategies Council, and Councilmember Schaff, hosted a follow up open data roundtable meeting on August 16, 2013. Open Oakland called on open data policy experts Mark Headd, Chief Data Officer of Philadelphia, Philip Ashlock, of the New York City Transparency Working Group behind Local Law 11, and the Sunlight Foundation to weigh in with comments. The three hour open data roundtable included a Google Hangout (teleconferencing in open data experts) and addressed and resolved questions and comments that arose via the commenting period of the policy, such as hard-hitting open data policy issue topics, such as “open by default” and prioritization models.

Councilmember Schaaf commented recently, in Oakland Local, on the open and collaborative nature of the legislative process:

“The sometimes cumbersome and obscure bureaucratic processes of Oakland’s City Hall can make us feel that our government is neither by the people nor for the people,” said Schaaf. “This Open Data Policy is a big step in the right direction towards changing that, and I hope other local governments will look to what Oakland has done as a model for how their cities can be more open and accountable.”

See the final Oakland Open Data Policy here and below, complete with the draft policy, public comments and open data policy roundtable notes attached:

The Growing Trend For Public Participation In Open Data Policy Drafting

During 2013, in addition to Oakland, we have seen more and more calls for public meetings to discuss open data policy making as well as public input mechanisms built in to open data policy drafts (and policy’s accompanying guidance). The list below is a roundup of online public feedback mechanisms from this year on open data policy. Be it a call for comments on a Google Doc, like Oakland, or hosting a call for comments via developer-friendly version control platform GitHub.

For a full list of upcoming US local open data policies (including the Louisville and West Sacramento policies also signed into law this month) follow our open data map and living open data policy comparison doc. If you see any policies or public input examples we have missed, please leave them in the comments or ping us at local [at] sunlightfoundation.com

Photo by govfresh.