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Reasons to Not Release Data, Part 2: Confusion

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Earlier this month, we shared a crowdsourced collection of the top concerns data advocates have heard when they’ve raised an open data project with government officials at the federal, state, and local level, and we asked for you to share how you’ve responded. Dozens of you contributed to the project, sharing your thoughts on social media, our public Google doc, and even on the Open Data Stack Exchange, where 8 threads were opened to dive deeper into specific subjects. Drawing from your input, our own experience, and existing materials from our peers at the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and some data warriors from the UK, we’ve compiled a number of answers -- discussion points, if you will -- to help unpack and respond to some of the most commonly cited open data concerns. This mash-up of expertise is a work in progress, but we bet you’ll find it a useful conversation starter (or continuer) for your own data advocacy efforts. Click here to see other posts in this series. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing challenges and responses from our #WhyOpenData list that correspond to different themes. Today’s theme is Confusion.

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Reasons to Not Release Data, Part 1: Apathy

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As many open access advocates, journalists, and government employees will tell you, broaching the subject of data disclosure can raise a lot of concerns for government data providers. Pioneers looking to move their government toward exploring information release have already come up with rebuttals to many of these challenges, but the collective knowledge is hard to share, usually trapped in email groups, discussion boards, blogs, and the memories and experiences of individuals. In the wake of re-releasing our Open Data Policy Guidelines, we wanted to probe these concerns and see what information we could share that data advocates could keep in their back pocket. So, earlier this month, we shared a crowdsourced collection of the top concerns data advocates have heard when they’ve raised an open data project with government officials at the federal, state, and local level, and we asked for you to share how you’ve responded. Dozens of you contributed to this project, sharing your thoughts on social media, our public Google doc, and even on the Open Data Stack Exchange, where 8 threads were opened to dive deeper into specific subjects. We also learned about resources akin to this one from our peers at the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and this awesome, bingo-card inspired round-up from the UK made by Christopher Gutteridge and Alexander Dutton. (The latter has even been translated into German!) Drawing from your input, these materials, and our own experience, we’ve compiled a number of answers -- discussion points, if you will -- to help unpack and respond to some of the most commonly cited open data concerns. This is mash-up of expertise is a work in progress, but we bet you’ll find it a useful conversation starter (or continuer) for your own data advocacy efforts. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing challenges and responses from our list that correspond to different themes. You can follow along on our blog and on Twitter via #WhyOpenData. Today’s theme is Apathy.

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Reasons (Not) to Release Data

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Earlier this year, Sunlight was issued a challenge: Collect and refute the most common reasons not to release data. As many open access advocates, journalists, and government employees themselves will tell you, there are a variety of "no's" given when the question of data disclosure arises. Many are predictable, some are political, some personal, many practical, and all deserving of attention. Pioneers looking to move their government toward exploring and advancing information release have already come up with rebuttals to many of these refusals, but the collective knowledge is hard to share, usually trapped in email groups, discussion boards, blogs, and the memories and experiences of individuals. So, we're going to meet our challenge with an experiment.

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South Bend, Indiana Signs Open Data Policy

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SouthBend

On Thursday, August 22nd, South Bend, Indiana became the 15th municipality (and, with a population of roughly 101,000, the smallest!) in the US to sign an open data policy into law. Executive Order No. 2-2013, enacted by Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was largely crafted to introduce a new transparency website, data.southbendin.gov, as a platform for publishing public information -- a fairly common motive for cities making this kind of policy. What’s uncommon about South Bend is not just its size, but the fact that their new policy firmly grounds “open data” in the state’s public records law.

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Announcing the Open Data Policy Guidelines, Version 2.0

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As more communities recognize the power and possibilities of sharing public data online, there is an increasing need to articulate what it means to open data -- and how to create policies that can not only support these efforts, but do so in a sustainable and ambitious way. To this end, we are releasing the second version of Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Guidelines. Originally authored last summer and informed by the great work of our peers and allies, the Guidelines are a living document created to help define the landscape of what open data policies can and should do. For this latest version, we’ve reordered and slightly rephrased the Guidelines’ 32 provisions for clarity. We’ve also grouped them into three categories as a way of demonstrating that open data policies can define What Data Should Be Public, How to Make Data Public and How to Implement Policy.

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States Lead on E-Filing, Will the Senate Catch Up?

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It seems our Senators have a thing or two learn from their home states when it comes to campaign finance reporting: 31 states currently require mandatory electronic reporting ("e-filing") of their elected representative's campaign finance records -- a leap above our Senate, which has failed to pass no-brainer e-filing legislation for over a decade. Sunlight conducted a review of the current state of similar filings in the states (see chart below), and the results are pretty surprising -- in a great way. State governments across the country -- 92% of them, in fact -- require at least optional, if not mandatory electronic filing for both houses of their bicameral legislatures.

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California Crying Wolf About Cost of Public Records?

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Though all appears to be quiet on the public records front in California after a proposed rollback tucked into a budget deal brought an outpouring of criticism and several political dances, the events of last week still haunt the Golden State’s citizens. And rightly so. There are still many unanswered questions about why language weakening public records laws for California cities (by allowing them to “opt out” of records act compliance) was included as part of the budget process.

The budget bill itself cites that requiring local governments to follow those provisions (versus just giving them the option) has financial implications for the state. In 2011, the Commission on State Mandates decided that the state would reimburse local governments for certain public records costs. This decision came from a voter-approved initiative that required the state to repay local governments for state-mandated measures. Perhaps this is why the legislature thought that destabilizing local-records access could be a cost-saving measure, one that simply saved the state money by ensuring that fewer records-related reimbursements have to be paid.

Is the current law really costing the state money though?

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Who Should Pay for Public Records?

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Whose responsibility is it to pay for access to public records?

The story out of California this week about its public records process, and how the state reimburses local governments for complying with the state's public records act, raises some difficult questions about how states and municipalities interface on certain transparency-related issues. How does a state determine when it owes its local governments for being open to the public? And just how is such a cost calculated? There are many aspects of the public records process that could be given a financial value: staff time, servers, software, paper, ink … and although California seems poised to change its policy of reimbursing local governments for costs related to public records, many questions remain. However the costs of public records are counted, the dollars and cents don’t address whether a state should be financing its local agencies' participation in transparency laws.

The latest news out of a rollercoaster week in California is that the legislature and Governor have responded to the outcry about the proposed slashing of public records requirements for local governments and seem to be in agreement that they will instead maintain the requirements and related funding.

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