New York City’s open data audit is a promising model for accountability


Eight years since Portland, Oregon passed the nation’s first open data policy, open data advocates are now beginning to shift their focus from getting policies passed to how—and how well—these policies are being enforced.

New York City is at the forefront of experimenting with new mechanisms for open data policy enforcement. Last night, after a series of examinations of agencies’ data systems and pursuant to Local Law 8, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) presented its second annual audit report on agency compliance with the open data policy to the City Council’s Committee on Technology.

A year into this experiment in open data auditing, New York City’s “Open Data Examination and Verification” process presents a promising a model for open data enforcement for cities everywhere to follow.

Local Law 8 and NYC’s Open Data Audit process
The NYC Council adopted Local Law 8 in 2016, creating an “agency compliance examination” for its open data law, perhaps one of the strongest open data enforcement mechanisms of any city in the country.

While many open data policies address implementation or mandate future review, Local Law 8 goes further toward policy enforcement. The law mandates that three agencies each year be examined for compliance with the open data policy.

The Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) has been tasked with carrying out these audits and reporting its findings. Last year’s audit included the Department of Sanitation, Department of Correction, and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. This year MODA examined the NYC Department of Buildings, Department of Environmental Protection, and Fire Department.

Auditing creates accountability and supports continuous improvement
The results of the audit were presented to City Council this week and have been made publicly available online, in theory creating an incentive for agency compliance beyond the existing self-reporting required of agencies. While the audit process this year did find that all three departments examined were broadly in compliance, it also notes that “each agency identified new datasets to publish to the Open Data Portal” as part of the audit process.

Additionally, the audit report’s findings must include “recommendations to improve the disclosure and inclusion of all public data sets”. This year’s recommendations include calls for open data support that is targeted to unique department needs, increased guidance and networking for Open Data Coordinators, as well as an emphasis on the importance of communicating executive buy-in and commitment to open data to City agencies.

Such recommendations present opportunities for continuous improvement of NYC’s open data program, and ultimately, improve the enforcement of the open data policy.

A model for open data accountability in other cities?
This isn’t the first time New York City has stepped out to the fore of open data work nationally. In 2012 New York City’s Open Data Law became a model for city hall open data programs across the country. A year into the compliance examination and verification process prescribed by local law 8, we wonder, can New York become a model for open data policy enforcement as as well?

Cities interested in replicating NYC’s strong commitment to open data enforcement should read the full text of Local Law 8 and learn more about the Open Data audit process by viewing both the 2017 “Examination and Verification Report” (below) and last year’s report as well.