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Oakland’s Public Participation Route to Open Data Legislation

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Steve Spiker and Eddie Tejeda (open data policy organizers) sharing OpenOakland’s work at East Bay Mini Maker Faire. Oakland passed an open data law earlier this month (October 15, 2013) that was generated by the people and for the people. Open Oakland captain Steve Spiker (Spike) gathered the Open Oakland and broader open government community to draft and chat the best open data policy for Oakland. Spike and Open Oakland, in addition to garnering support for the open data policy, cultivated the policy from start to finish through drafting, public comments, a call to experts, and [teleconferenced] public meetings. Open Oakland serves as an excellent example of the community's role in generating open data policy, and their public input process is an exemplar route to  incorporating public perspectives into policy. The Sunlight Foundation's Guideline to incorporating public perspective into policy implementation reads as follows:

Implementing the details of an open data policy will benefit from public participation. Open data policies not only have effects government-wide, which will require consideration, but also have consequences for a variety of stakeholder groups outside of the government. Allowing these groups to participate in the decision-making process (and make real contributions) can have great benefits for policy creation and execution. Stakeholders and experts can bring to the table valuable new perspectives that highlight challenges or opportunities that might not otherwise be obvious. Formal mechanisms for collaboration can include hearings, draft proposals open for public comment and contribution, and online resources like wikis and email lists.
Below we have outlined Oakland's public input process and how it is part of a growing trend to openly include community perspective, desires, and concerns into open data policy.

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Boilerplate Open Data Policy and Why It’s a Problem

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In preparation for the revamping of our Open Data Policy Guidelines, we reviewed all twenty-three  of the current local (city, county and state) open data policies on the books since their debut in 2006. These “open data policies” ranged in form from government administrative memos ordering the release of “high-value” datasets to legislation calling for open data policy planning to the newest member of the open data policy family, South Bend, Indiana’s executive order. Our main takeaway: There has been a lot of copying and pasting amongst policies, confusion on common open data terminology, and missed opportunities for information disclosure, but best practices are emerging.

Copying and pasting boilerplate legislative language is as old as law itself. In fact, legal precedent is built on throwbacks, edits, and remixes. The modern day copying and pasting feature has served as a technological blessing in legal matters that require a high level of repetition, such as producing demand letters for common legal claims, or, for one of Sunlight’s favorite exercises of individual rights, completing a public records or freedom of information request. However, when copying and pasting enters more nuanced areas of law, such as contract or legislation drafting, significant complications can arise. Without the proper edits or engaged collaborative thinking required in policy drafting, the ever tempting copy/paste model falls short. Below we explore just how borrowed open data legislative language thus far has been and examples of where it’s been the least helpful.

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New Louisville Open Data Policy Insists Open By Default is the Future

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On Tuesday, October 15, 2013, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced the signing of an open data policy executive order in conjunction with his compelling talk at the 2013 Code for America Summit. In nonchalant cadence, the mayor announced his support for complete information disclosure by declaring, "It's data, man." What's more is this was one of three open data policies signed into law over the last week, the others being California’s West Sacramento and Oakland policies. (For the complete view, see our map of growing policies here.)

The Louisville policy is unique in that hits many of the Sunlight Foundation's Open Data Policy Guidelines rarely touched upon by others, including a strong "open by default" provision, and, like South Bend, IN, roots its basis for affecting the transparency of information disclosure firmly in legal precedent, in this case, the Kentucky Open Meetings and Open Records Act. Doing so further empowers it's "open by default" status. The Louisville policy also provides a clear series of checks and balances to insure information is disclosed by calling for (1) the creation of a comprehensive inventory supported by the letter of the law itself (which we have only seen in the 2013 U.S. federal policy thus far — and which has not yet been implemented), (2) a yearly open data report, and (3) built-in review of the policy itself for the ever-changing information and technology landscape ahead. We have broken out the significance and mechanics of Louisville's policy that support information disclosure further below.

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NYC’s Plan to Release All-ish of Their Data

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On Monday, September 23rd, New York City released a plan to, as Government Technology put, open “all” its data. Pursuant to section two of Local Law 11 of 2012 (§23-506 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) — also known as NYC’s Open Data Policy — the long awaited agency compliance plan does complete the monolithic task of  listing all NYC agency public datasets, with scheduled release times of no later than the end of 2018, but there are ways it could have been more inclusive and comprehensive.

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The State of Local Procurement

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This summer, Code for America, Omidyar Network, and the Sunlight Foundation joined forces to investigate municipal procurement trends, best practices, and potential areas of improvement across the country with a Local Government Procurement Survey.

The survey yielded 31 total responses, representing a total of 28 cities and counties, ranging in population from 13,881 to 2.7 million and hailing from every region of the continental United States. The majority of respondents (93%) were government employees working with or in the purchasing department.

The Local Government Procurement Survey asked cities about procurement process data disclosure, the formal and informal procurement process for IT contracts, and what challenges existed in their current procurement system. Check out more details on our initial results below.

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Complete Local Legislative Data

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When we talk about providing a transparent and legible legislative process, the first step is identifying all the moving parts that contribute to the passing of law. In Washington, D.C., this means not just following the city council, but also following D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, the hyperlocal government entities that advise the city council on community issues. Although the District’s city government structure is uniquely granular, it serves as an excellent model for understanding what a complete legislative data framework should consist of.

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Your Guidelines to Open Data Guidelines Pt. 2: Stages of Development

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In revisiting Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Guidelines for our Version 2.0 release, we took a closer look at other sources for open data guidance that have been released over the years. To see a comprehensive round up of open data guidance (complete with a timeline!) see Part 1 of Your Guideline to Open Data Guidelines: The History.

Although it’s only been eight years since the first resource of this kind was created with the Open Knowledge Foundation's Open Knowledge Definition, exploring open data guidance in its totality not only shows how much these recommendations build on each other, but how the movement has matured. Moreover, many of these resources occupy separate-–but overlapping-–arenas of expertise, though an outside perspective may not immediately catch their nuances. Below, we’ll explore in more detail the three major themes of open data guidance: How to Define Open Data, How to Implement Open Data, and How to Open an Open Data Discussion.

The sequence, prevalence, and layering of these themes showcase the developmental stages of the open data movement thus far. Over the years we have seen open data advocacy emerge from its nascent expert-driven defining period to becoming (quite self-referentially) a public discussion. We’ve seen different missions of the major players in the open data movement inform nuanced definitions and implementation recommendations, and we have seen an increase in best practice assessments, academic critique, and diverging schools of thought.

To understand this larger story, let us look at each piece.

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The Legislation Will Not Be Televised

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This map distinguishes five levels of legislative web and broadcasting comprehension on a sliding scale from “Best” (including all recommended elements: video formatting of floor proceedings and committee hearings, archived, and broadcasted via a variety of mediums) to “Worst” (missing several of these recommended elements). For more info (or to watch!) see the NCSL's original roundup here.

Open legislative data is integral to a functioning legible participatory democracy. The legislative data canopy covers everything from information about who represents you to the nuts and bolts of the legislative process to final letter of the law, with each element carrying its own series of challenges and considerations when it comes to public access. Timely and archived legislative process data (i.e. bills, amendments, committee meetings, votes, and contextual information, such as: research reports, legislative journals and lobbying information) are crucial to supporting citizen participation and informed voting. Video documentation of the legislative process represents the barebones of open and accountable legislative process data -- passive recordings of events as they happen for prosperity and public inclusion -- and yet this information is still not comprehensively available in most U.S. states.

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