OpenGov Voices: Kansas City’s commitment to open data is stronger than ever

Eric Roche, chief data officer of Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City, Mo., committed early to the idea of open data, launching its portal in 2013. When I began managing open data operations earlier this year, it was clear that the city was committed to making data available to the public to increase transparency and encourage citizen and business participation in government. As such, when Bloomberg Philanthropies announced its What Works Cities initiative to help cities make evidence-based, data-driven decisions last spring, Kansas City jumped at the chance to participate. In August, we were selected for What Works Cities, working alongside experts in the field to establish ourselves as leaders in the use of open data to achieve citywide goals and engage with the public.

As one of the first What Works cities, we committed to helping build citywide capacity to access and utilize data. We want residents to be able to see how their tax dollars are being spent. We want businesses to be able to use data to understand their markets in order to create innovative products. We want schools to use data to better understand the neighborhoods their students live in. We also know from experience that opening up our data will help improve our internal operations, saving time spent fulfilling requests for data and making it easier to foster cross-departmental collaboration. We are extremely passionate about how empowering open data is for employees across the organization, and we can’t wait to see what types of innovation it generates.

As a part of this process, we established a governance committee that is a mechanism for city departments to collaborate with the City Manager’s Office, Legal Department and IT to identify methods for prioritizing the release of data. We recently held our first governance committee meeting, in which we discussed issues that our departments had with sharing data and the ways in which our open data program could help us develop solutions.

The Kansas City, Mo., skyline. (Photo credit: Charvex/Wikimedia Commons)

We also committed to collaborating with the Sunlight Foundation to revise the city’s first open data policy. The updated ordinance now incorporates 16 additional best practices in open data policy, as identified by Sunlight. For example, the policy provides a more concrete structure for oversight and calls for streamlining the release of data. Additionally, it stipulates that data collected for the government on behalf of third-party agencies should also be made open, making it easier for the public to understand how outside agencies are performing. And in general, the new ordinance makes Kansas City’s data as user-friendly as possible by providing descriptions, narratives, supporting documentation and code where appropriate.

We are extremely excited about what is already being done with city data, from our own KCStat dashboard to what Code for KC is developing. Being able to sit down with partners from the nonprofit world, civic coding community, neighborhood leaders and policy experts to objectively discuss how to move the city forward is especially rewarding for us, and we can’t wait to expand the ability of these groups to make data-driven decisions in quick, easy and innovative ways.

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