Which of Your Local Candidates Support Transparency?

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In anticipation of this year’s local elections, many open government advocacy groups have surveyed local candidates on open data issues and shared the results in hopes of informing and mobilizing citizens to vote for candidates that are committed to transparency. We’ve seen open data questionnaires conducted around North America this fall for a variety of motivating factors, including: To Fight Past Corruption, To Foster New Open Data Initiatives—or simply—To Maintain Current Open Data Momentum. This trend of open data surveys is indicative of a widespread interest in transparency issues this election season, and with a growing number local governments adopting administratively-sensitive open data laws, a trend we will likely see more of in the future.

Below we have rounded up a mini-landscape of open data candidate questionnaires distributed this election season.

To Fight Past Corruption

One of the motivating factors that has fueled advocacy organizations to question local candidates about open data issues is a history of local corruption. Amidst massive corruption issues involving bid rigging, forged receipts, and kickbacks in Quebec, Canada this year, the bipartisan open data organization Quebec Ouvert created: I Vote with Transparency (pictured above), a survey which was “designed to mobilize citizens to vote for politicians who are committed to transparency.” The top of the survey tackled the issue of procurement disclosure head on with questions about disclosing information about awarding municipal contracts. The survey goes on to ask questions about disclosing a variety of datasets (legislative, electoral, environmental, etc), support for open formats, and support of open data policies. For a full list of questions (and answers by candidates), see I Vote with Transparency. Questioning local candidates about information disclosure has not always been motivated reactively to fight corruption, but sometimes has been part of a campaign to continue open data initiatives or develop proactively new open data practices.

To Foster New Open Data Initiatives

We have also seen municipalities that have had strong open government communities that have been recently advocating for open data laws take the opportunity presented by an administration change to further advocate for the execution of an open data policy. The opportunity brought on by an administration change is very real—for example, when San Diego recently had their mayor resign, the interim mayor has taken action toward a San Diego open data policy.

The Twin Cities area and Miami have strong open government communities, but still no open data law, and took this opportunity in government change to advocate for open data. This September, Bill Bushey and the Open Twin Cities community, in light of a contentious election season in Minneapolis (with the mayoral and many city council seats up for grabs) saw the opportunity to both introduce the idea of open data to candidates, and  to see where they stood on the issue by creating an Open Twin Cities open data survey. Complete with a press release, the survey introduced to Minneapolis Mayoral and City Council candidates consisted of an introductory letter describing Open Twin Cities (their goals and difficulties with closed data), an 8-question survey and a one-page guide to what open data and open standards meant for municipal data. The questions covered topics, such as: views on open data in the context of economic development and transparency and accountability, opinions on whether Minneapolis currently released enough datasets and if the candidate supported releasing datasets by default, in open formats in the future. As well as specific questions about what the candidate’s strategy would be for opening data.  To date, in Minneapolis, over 20 responses have been received, with candidate responses ranging from things like, “I am the #1 advocate of open data in the cities races this year,” to “I will authorise any open data system that seems to work.” See a full set of responses here, and a list of who has and has not responded with highlights rounded by Open Twin Cities for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.  Open Twin Cities shared their survey with the Code for America brigade, hosted in Google docs and on GitHub, where several cities remixed the idea to ask their local candidates their views on open data. Code for Miami created their own short-but-sweet open data survey (pictured below), by gathering citizen input at a Meetup event for an open data FAQ and list of candidates.

To Maintain Current Open Data Momentum

We have seen cities with new open data policies continue their advocacy with new candidates as well. Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Oakland, California, both passed open data policies through their city council this year (in February and October, respectively). So, it’s no wonder the same communities that were supportive of these measures are likewise behind initiatives to examine which of their local candidates are in support or not of open data and transparency efforts.

In Tulsa, the Code for Tulsa community took the Open Twin Cities survey and remixed more generally for their Tulsa candidates, also adding a mark down version in GitHub to support their open source technology goals via an open source platform. Unrelated to the Code for Tulsa open data survey, Mayoral candidate Taylor proactively released a a Transparency and Accountability report documenting her commitment to transparency.

In Oakland, Open Oakland advocates took another route. Rather than sending the candidates a survey, they collected information on Oakland candidates reputation for transparency collected information about the candidates reputation for transparency and created the website: OaklandCandidates.org in anticipation of the Oakland 2014 election, asking council and attorney candidates to sign an open government pledge in advance, citing those who had, who were at large and their social media contact information.

Lasty, New York City who after years with the Mayor Bloomberg administration and significant strides in open government progress (see the NYC Digital Roadmap and NYC’s open data policy, Local Law 11 of 2012, and NYC Checkbook 2.0) is facing a huge election next week. New York City open government and technology groups have hosted a variety of meetings and platforms to insure the open government and tech momentum in New York City stays. The New York Tech Meetup community (the largest Meetup in the county) has over the last year hosted a variety of meetings about open government including: an Ideascale for citizens about the future of NYC tech policy, interviews of the Mayoral Candidates and NYC.gov hosted technology related meetups in each borough. They have also created Candidate Software (that is open source and available on GitHub) to help citizens view where candidates stand and a series of outlets to reach out to candidates about NYC’s long standing open government community.

As we see open data law and policy continue to spring up around the country, administration changes that affect policy creation will become ripe for open data advocacy action. Moreover, open data laws, still being relatively new (with most having been created within the last 3 years) will for the first time be threatened with their potential dismissal or improvement due to administration change. While city council elections have bearing on open data legislation, this risk is especially high in cities and states that have open data policies through a Mayor or Governor issued executive orders (See: Memphis, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York state, South Bend, and Louisville). The Sunlight Foundation will continue to keep an eye on open data advocacy and policy around the country.

Was there an open data survey this election season that we missed? Leave it in the comments or react out to local [at] sunlightfoundation.com

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