Victorville’s new open data policy brings transparency to the California desert

Route 66 as it passes through Victorville, Calif.

Earlier this month, the city of Victorville, Calif., became the latest What Works City to pass an open data policy. This step is a major reform for the city, which provides the structure for its government to become more transparent and efficient. Victorville joins Jackson, Miss., Kansas City, Mo., Mesa, Ariz., Waco, Texas, and San Jose as cities that have passed open data policies as part of the What Works Cities initiative (WWC).

Victorville’s participation in WWC and its subsequent adoption of San Bernardino County’s first open data policy has also elevated the dialogue for this high-desert city of just over 120,000. “It puts us in the mix with other cities … putting us on the map,” Victorville City Manager Doug Robertson said. “We wanted to get back into a leadership position, not only in our region but in California as well.” The open data program also functions as a way to tear down silos in city government and improve information sharing. “We’re looking forward to our own staff having access to information.”

Victorville’s policy also shows the value of internal buy-in. Mayor Gloria Garcia noted that the move toward open data was the result of the teamwork between the City Council, City Manager’s Office and the community, as transparency was a major goal for the city. “There’s progress when there’s teamwork,” Garcia said.

Sunlight provided technical support to Victorville in the development of its policy, creating detailed resources and providing hands-on assistance to city staff. “We’re thankful to work with Sunlight and What Works Cities,” Robertson said. “They helped us jump right into the deep end of the pool.”

As a result, Victorville integrated many of the best practices from Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Guidelines into its own legislation, reflecting the city’s aspirations of becoming a leader in open data. For example, the city has committed to regularly publishing updated data, including the metadata associated with it. Victorville also created a governing body, the Data Governance Working Group, which will work with the city manager to oversee the program. This group will develop a process that integrates existing policies, like the California Public Records Act, into the program and create a process to publish an inventory of city-held data. Additionally, it will also determine which data is appropriate for publishing, excluding data containing sensitive information. The Data Governance Working Group’s membership will include not only city employees but representatives from the community, who will help prioritize the release of datasets based on public input. This feature demonstrates that citizen engagement is an important part of the process, reflecting a core component of Victorville’s (and Sunlight’s) approach to open data.

However, there is still a long way to go and policy is just a first step: While budget and expenditure data is available online, Victorville has yet to develop a central portal for all city data. This presents a challenge for all cities who pursue open data as such a project demands resources. Even so, the policy commits to creating a “central location” and once completed, data will be easily accessible through bulk downloads. The presence of a robust policy ensures internal systems will be in place for the city to take full advantage of the time when it can proactively release data on a wider scale.

The adoption of an open data policy demonstrates the commitment that the city of Victorville has toward an open and well-run government. Sunlight would like to congratulate Victorville for this achievement, and we’re proud to have played a role in the creation of the policy.