Detroit embraces transparency with new open data portal

Photo of wall mural in Detroit
(Photo credit: angai369/Instagram)

While there are many great things about the Motor City, Detroit has also unfortunately become synonymous with corruption due to actions by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, sentenced just months ago to 28 years for racketeering, fraud and extortion. Still recovering from the effects of a lack of transparency and and a lagging economy, Detroit’s new open data policy and portal show that things are definitely looking up: The government now promises to help its communities through providing open and accessible city data.

At the start of 2015, Mayor Mike Duggan signed Executive Order 2015-2 to establish the City of Detroit Open Data Initiative. Explaining that the release of city data “will foster and create a more transparent, open, collaborative, participatory and accountable relationship between the city government and the people it serves,” the executive order mandated that all city departments take all data that’s not restricted by state or federal law and make it available to residents on the site. The goal was to increase accessibility and the availability of certain data collected or maintained by the city.

The executive order did a great job of pushing for collaboration between the city and its residents. In addition to promoting transparency, it also promises to foster “a creative culture and innovation-driven economy,” something Detroit looks poised to continue to grow. The executive order also establishes a task force and advisory commission that will evaluate and determine best methods for design, implementation and monitoring. This task force and advisory commission pairs agencies and other stakeholders in an engagement process that produces a report on what the best methods are for pushing Detroit forward with the creation of this portal.

As a concrete marker of its progress, Detroit successfully launched its first open data portal. While finances have been challenging for the city, Detroit was the first city to receive a technology grant from the recently created Socrata Foundation. The foundation, created by the eponymous cloud software company, aims to “support deserving, society-improving organizations that lack the resources to fulfill their data-driven mission.” The technology grant covers the launch and service of Detroit’s portal for the next three years.

The portal will include data from the following nine agencies:

  • Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department
  • Detroit Police Department
  • Detroit Land Bank Authority
  • Planning and Development Department
  • Recreation Department
  • Public Works
  • Assessor
  • Detroit Department of Transportation
  • City Clerk (Elections)

The city also plans to have all city financial transactions accessible on line in the coming months.

We have seen the benefits of open data efforts in cities like Philadelphia, where information released by agencies such as these was used to help better inform constituents about things like polling place location. This happened as well in Washington, D.C., where datasets were used to illuminate where children’s resources and well-being vary across the district.

Detroit has made major progress and great strides with its open data portal. We look forward to seeing more quality datasets being published to help better inform the residents of Detroit — and ultimately help the city achieve its admirable goals of transparency, openness, collaboration and innovation.