How Durham hopes to improve their open data policy through public comment


Durham Highway. Credit: City of Durham.

On Wednesday, the city and county of Durham, NC posted their open data policy for public comment online using the OpenGov Foundation’s online drafting platform, Madison. Like many of the local governments Sunlight has worked with in the What Works Cities initiative, Durham is using the revision of its open data policy as an opportunity to solicit feedback directly from the public, technical experts, as well as those with local knowledge. As with the District of Columbia and other cities, we’re glad to see Durham seeking direct public feedback online to update the text of an existing open data policy.

Durham’s open data policy has been in effect since 2015, when they approved the current version. The city also has a portal that hosts a diverse array of datasets that can be access and re-used by the public. Beyond the policy itself, Durham is also revamping its data management practices to make disclosure both more streamlined and responsive to public demands.  The city has also created internal and external data governance workgroups that the city will consult with on new initiatives and best practices.

By seeking public feedback on an existing policy this way, the city is taking an admirable approach executing one of Sunlight’s Open Data Guidelines, where we recommend cities should “Mandate Future Review for Changes to Policy.”Cities need to remain up to date on current best practices to have a truly dynamic program.

In North Carolina, Durham is not only updating their policy but doing so in a way that will reflect the needs and desires of the people who will be accessing the their own data.

This approach also shows how the ways cities think about their open data programs is evolving. As the practice of opening data has moved beyond just liberating data held within government and providing access to it online has matured, more cities are directly engaging and involving their residents in both policy, process and prioritizing disclosures. We commend Durham for taking this approach and hope other cities do too.

Public participation is an important tool to improve the policies and data that support government. Cities that post their open data policies online for public feedback are taking a big step in the right direction and we encourage you to join in this effort.

Please check out Durham’s draft policy on Madison and leave a comment before the June 21st deadline. If you’re interested in helping other cities, please review the policies posted online for Buffalo and Tempe, and see if the ideas there could be applied in your city.