In Wichita, creating an open data practice that meets community needs

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When the City of Wichita joined What Works Cities in June 2016, open data was one of the two focus areas we identified for our work together. We are very excited to have an open data policy now officially in place, which further solidifies our commitment to transparency for the residents we serve. We’ve also seen this work as an opportunity to engage our community more directly and consider ways to more proactively meet its needs.

For starters, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton and I led a cross-functional, collaborative effort with our local Code for America brigade, Open Wichita, as we developed the policy. Our conversations have clarified ways we can make municipal data most accessible for our local civic tech community as it creates tools and solutions that help tackle city challenges.

Additionally, we published a draft of the policy online using free software from the OpenGov Foundation called Madison. Madison is an online environment that allows for annotating, commenting on, and editing various documents. By sharing our draft policy with the public and calling for feedback, we were able to hear directly from our residents how we could further develop it. More than 120 notes were received on the draft (which is still viewable today) over several months. The policy was then redrafted into a format that met our administrative regulations and signed by the City Manager on September 8, 2016.

So what does it mean for Wichita as we move from drafting and adopting the policy to putting it into practice? Well, sometimes it’s easier to understand something by describing what it’s not.

  • It’s not just compliance with the law. Our commitment to sharing data with our community goes above and beyond what the law requires—because it’s the right thing to do. A commitment to open data is just as much about good customer service and improving results. We’re focusing not only on releasing our data but doing so in a way that makes it easy to use and in formats that make sense.
  • It’s not just “barfing out” data sets. It’s about asking customers how they want to use the data, focusing on high-value targets, providing self-service options to streamline the open records experience, and making more information available in a common location. We’re also taking a strategic approach to how we release data sets, prioritizing ones that residents have been asking for most frequently in open records requests.
  • It’s not just about the “new.” Even with existing channels that draw on city data, we now make improvements based on the evidence: our myStop transit app, our Wichita Report app for reporting neighborhood issues, our work with Open Wichita, etc. We’re determined to keep applying new learnings to existing work.

So how are we doing so far? I have to say we’re pleased with early successes. We have created an open data committee, which includes members from the community to collaborate with city staff as we map out which data should be made available and in what format. We also expect outcomes from our open data work (as well as our results-driven contracting work, our second focus area with What Works Cities) will feed into the significant software replacements of HR/payroll and finance systems we have coming up. As the 48th largest city in the country, Wichita is proud to be part of What Works Cities and looking forward to continuing to build on our progress!

Mike Mayta directs all information technology and systems for the City of Wichita, serving 17 city departments with over 3,200 staff in ove­r 90 locations. Mike is also an adjunct faculty member at Wichita State University, where he teaches advanced courses in management information systems. Outside of work, Mike is active in the local tech community and volunteers for various service organizations.