Tracking collaborative policy for open data

Buffalo used the OpenGov Foundation's Madison platform to solicit public feedback on their draft policy.
Buffalo used the OpenGov Foundation’s Madison platform to solicit public feedback on their draft open data policy.

There’s a rising trend in municipal open data. Local governments are increasingly looking for substantive ways to engage stakeholders online in the collaborative design and drafting of open data policy and programs. Sunlight has created an open spreadsheet — our Open Data Policy Crowdlaw Tracker — for tracking cases of these types of collaborative efforts (also called “crowdlaw”), and we hope this will provide inspiring examples for government officials.

In 2016, Sunlight’s work on the What Works Cities initiative has included responding to local governments’ desire for support in undertaking crowdlaw practices, and we are excited to continue researching and supporting this work in 2017 and beyond!

From access to collaboration

As we think critically about the open data movement’s spread across US cities, it’s clear that significant progress has been made in increasing both technical and legal access to government data in cities across the country. However, the promise of open data has always been about more than simply access to datasets; it’s been about a new kind of relationship between city hall and the public, one that breeds positive community outcomes through collaboration.

While we are not always seeing as many compelling examples as we would like of open data programs going beyond mere access toward something more like substantive collaboration for impact, one arena where this ethos is playing out successfully is in the collaborative development of open data policy and program-design through practices known (at least in the wonkish corner of the world that Sunlight inhabits) as “crowdlaw”.

Open data crowdlaw on the rise

According to the NYU GovLab, crowdlaw is “open, collaborative crowdsourced lawmaking”, further defined as “a tech-enabled approach for drafting [public policy], that offers an alternative to the traditional method of policymaking, which typically occurs behind closed doors and with little input from the people it affects.” As we have written previously, Sunlight believes that crowdlaw and open data policy make a perfect match, and, if 2016 is any indication, local governments agree.

In 2016 alone, we saw examples of six local jurisdictions undertaking open data crowdlaw efforts, resulting in eight collaboratively developed open data policy drafts, nearly as many as the nine open data policy documents we had seen opened up for online feedback and co-creation in all local US governments prior to 2016. Here are those jurisdictions and the relevant policy drafts:

Largely thanks to our work on the What Works Cities initiative, Sunlight is thrilled to have been involved in directly facilitating and indirectly advising/contributing in all six of these jurisdictions’ open data crowdlaw efforts. Because of the success of this involvement, we have worked hard in 2016 to position our team to continue support for this practice in 2017 and beyond.

Help us keep track of open data crowdlaw!

Part and parcel with supporting open data crowdlaw practice is understanding open data crowdlaw practice and how it is shaping out in the real world. To that end, we are excited to share that Sunlight is now tracking all instances of online collaborative open data policy making in US local governments from the very first example we could find (Cook County, Ill. and Smart Chicago Collaborative’s use of RapGenius–now simply Genius–to annotate the county’s open data policy online in 2011) to the most contemporary (Buffalo, N.Y.’s use of Madison as part of a collaborative policy development process that is ongoing through January of 2017) and everything in between. Fittingly, we’d love to collaborate online with any and everyone interested as we continue to document these efforts, so we’ve compiled each instance of open data crowdlaw in an open google sheet we’re calling our “Open Data Policy Crowdlaw Tracker”. Take a look below, and please don’t hesitate to comment or email us at if you know of any instances of open data crowdlaw that we may have missed!

Check out the full Crowdlaw Tracker here.

It is our goal that in documenting this practice we will not only help our team better understand the trends, best practices, and benefits of open data crowdlaw, but will also help inspire other jurisdictions to join the list of places making online collaboration with public stakeholders an increasingly standard practice in open data policy and program design.