Houston recently joined the rest of the top-five largest cities in the country in having an open data policy.
New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — the three largest cities in the country — and Philadelphia — the fifth-largest city — all had open data policies by the end of 2013. Now, Houston — the fourth-largest city — has joined those ranks on Sept. 18 with an open data policy signed by the mayor.
Houston already has an open data portal with more than 160 datasets spanning a range of topics. The policy aims to help ensure that the city’s more than 2.1 million residents receive timely access to usable data being released online through that portal.
Here’s what the policy does:
- Build on the values, goals and mission of the community and government
- Call for the creation of a comprehensive list of information holdings, though it doesn’t explicitly call for that list to be public
- Specify methods of determining the prioritization of data release
- Stipulate that open data provisions apply to contractors or quasi-governmental agencies
- Safeguard sensitive information, though it does so without a balance test for the public interest
- Encourage data formats for maximal technical access
- Define open data as being available without restrictions for accessing information and making it license-free
- Ensure data will be shared through a central location
- Mandate ongoing data publication and updates
- Create an oversight authority
- Create guidance for implementation
- Incorporate public perspectives into policy implementation
- Create processes to ensure data quality
- Mandate future review for potential changes to the policy
Here is what the next iteration of the policy should also include:
- Proactively release government information online
- Provide comprehensive and appropriate formats for varied uses
- Require publishing metadata
- Require publishing data creation processes
- Mandate the use of unique identifiers
- Require code sharing or publishing open source
- Publish bulk data
- Create public APIs for accessing information
- Optimize methods of data collection
- Create permanent, lasting access to data
Not having these elements in the open data policy itself doesn’t mean Houston can’t follow through on these best practices. It can, and should, include these points it the policy guidance to make sure the open data initiative will be as effective and impactful as possible.
Now that the five largest cities in the country have open data policies, there is an opportunity for them to compete on open data policy implementation. A policy’s strength is in its implementation, so New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia should all be working diligently to ensure that their policies live up to their full potential.
Houston may be the newcomer to the group, but many in the city are clearly excited about the new policy and the opportunities it presents. We hope the city will take full advantage of having a policy in place to move forward with best practices and iterate on the existing policy to make it even stronger in the future.