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Aloha Hawaii Open Data Legislation!

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Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie is signing the nation’s third statewide open data policy into law today (at 11 a.m. HST/5 p.m. EST). The bill, Hawaii House Bill 632, was originally drafted in November 2012, but the open data movement in Hawaii and push for legislation has been chugging along for years now. Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia and Burt Lum, the executive director of Hawaii Open Data, crafted Hawaii’s Open Data Bill to support the data release that has been going on over the last year (via the city’s Socrata-hosted open data portal, currently boasting over 150 datasets) and in concurrence with a larger program that updates the state’s IT infrastructure.

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From Unconference Session to Open Data Policy

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Here at Sunlight, we embrace the idea that brilliant work can grow from seeds sown during organically constructed, discussion-driven sessions -- the foundation of any unconference. Our own unconference, TransparencyCamp, has itself yielded the creation of the Brazilian civic hacking group Transparência Hackers  and CityCamp, and has served for the launch pad for Waldo Jaquith’s OpenVA, a hub for new data and APIs for Virginia, AbreLatAm, an open data unconference in Uruguay, and even inspiration for Josh Tauberer’s “Open Data is Civic Capital: Best Practices for ‘Open Government Data'”.

But what happens when the seed you are trying to plant is legislative change? How do open government unconference attendees (a mix of engaged residents, city officials, and other civic players) help make a legislative seedling grow? What next steps should be taken? Moreover, how can engaged citizens help to promote open data?

We've been thinking about these questions since Alisha Green and Rebecca Williams of Sunlight’s municipal team and Open States lead, James Turk, had the opportunity to sit in on an open data policy brainstorming discussion at CityCampNC in Raleigh, North Carolina, lead by open government guru and Code for America brigade captain, Jason Hibbets, and Raleigh Open Data Manager, Jason Hare. The “Statewide Open Data Policy” session was a popular and well attended one, and took place in every unconference’s coveted spot: the big room. Attendees included software developers, government staff members, members of local civic organizations, and civic hackers. It was a pleasure to see a session focused on open data policy-making because not only would the creation of such a policy directly support the work done at unconferences like CityCampNC, but because such a policy would have the chance to be made stronger by having so many of Raleigh’s relevant open data stakeholders assembled in one place at the same time. Below, we explore some of the strongest takeaways and lessons learned from approaching policy making in an unconference (or similar) setting.

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The future of civic software reuse?

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On Thursday June 6th at the Personal Democracy Forum (an annual conference exploring technology’s influence on politics and government), New York City’s Comptroller John Liu announced that the code behind Checkbook NYC 2.0, the city's transparency spending web portal, had been open-sourced and made available for forking on Checkbook NYC 2.0's github page. This is significant because (1) Checkbook 2.0 is enormous: it makes over $70 billion dollars in New York City spending available online in a timely, structured, and human-readable form, demonstrating that best practices in data disclosure can be followed even at scale; (2) it marks a shift to proactive civic application-sharing, by the way of the municipality’s desire to share the resources they’ve developed with other local (and even state) governments and NYC’s partnership with common municipal software vendors in this endeavor; and (3) it raises questions about what’s next for government transparency tools, civic software partnerships, and reuse.

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National Day of Civic Hacking 2013

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This past weekend, over 11,000 individuals connected under the helm of the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) -- a series of local #HackForChange hackathons, unconferences, and meeting of the minds that engaged local communities with open data, code, and tech.

From what we can tell, the NDoCH events were magnetic, drawing together participation from local (and traveling) developers, government officials (including a few mayors!), community leaders, and even 21 federal agencies. The vibe of this national organization not only encouraged a sort of: "If you can't hack with the city you reside in, hack with the one you're physically located in," but also further encouraged cross-pollination of civic applications from community to community (For more highlights from the national scene, check out this Storify feed.) Although Sunlight wasn’t able to attend every one of the 95 events held this past weekend, the events we did attend taught us quite a bit. Below, we’ve rounded up our reflections, recaps, and geeky highlights from the festivities in Baltimore, DC, Montgomery County, North Carolina, and Western Massachusetts.

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Your Guideline to Open Data Guidelines Pt. 1: The History

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Last summer, Sunlight released a series of Open Data Guidelines in reaction to a surge of municipal open data policy making. In anticipation of revamping these policies this summer (to add fresh context, ideas, and exemplary language) and in reaction to a recent surge in open data policy collaboration as evidenced by the interactive Project Open Data and the newly public (beta) Open Data Stack Exchange (or maybe more accurately in reaction to the Meta Open Data Stack Exchange...), we wanted to provide a roadmap to the world open data resources and recommendations that are available to put these resources in context of their evolution over time–a guideline to Open Data Guidelines, if you will. The first step in navigating the open data guidelines out there is to examine the chronology of how they surfaced.

The timeline below provides a landscape of current open data policy guidelines, guidance, and principles that exist and showcases the chronology in which they have manifested, each guideline often directly building off of (or crafted in reaction to) its predecessor. Looking at these guidelines in context exposes the pragmatic and technical evolutions in thought that have occurred under the banner of open data pursuit: from the foundational drive to define what information is legally available (through FOIA and other public records laws) to the trailblazing concept of proactive disclosure (where "public" access means "online" access) to establishing the qualities that make data more accessible and usable (emphasizing structured, bulk data, unique IDs, and APIs). The dialogue for discussing open data policy guidelines has itself evolved from the gathering of smaller open government groups of: Open House Project, Open Government Working Group, the Open Government Initiative, and early collaborative efforts such as the Open Gov Handbook, to the editable Project Open Data and the Q&A Open Data Stack Exchange.

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Supreme Court FOI Decision Foolish and Shortsighted

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law that generally prohibits non-Virginians from making use of its Freedom of Information law. As part of its decision in McBurney v. Young, the Court held that the Constitution's Article IV "Privileges and Immunities" clause does not extend to a non-Virginian's right to access public information on equal terms with Virginia citizens. The Constitution says that "the Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States," and the clause was intended to prevent a state from treating citizens of another state in a discriminatory manner. This ruling allows states like Virginia, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Tennessee to continue to make the benefits of their freedom of information laws available only to their citizens. The Court squares this logical circle by concluding that the access to public information made available under state FOI laws are not "basic to the maintenance or well-being of the Union," and thus not a "fundamental" privilege or immunity the Constitution was intended to protect. It baldly states, without evidence, that "there is no contention that the Nation's unity founded in [the absence of FOIA laws prior to the 1960s], or that it is suffering now because of the citizens-only FOIA provisions that several States have enacted."

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Open Data Policy Evolution: San Francisco

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Since the release of Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Guidelines last June, Chicago, Madison, Montgomery County, and Utah have all enacted open data laws, and the states of Hawaii and Ohio are both in the process of enacting open data legislation. However, the recent amendment of San Francisco’s two-and-a-half-year-old open data ordinance (ancient in the open data policy world) demonstrates a new frontier for these policies: Evolution.

San Francisco is unique in having been one of three cities to have an open data policy enacted before the federal Open Government Directive and in being the only city that has revamped their open data policy not once, but twice: first in 2010, expanding their bare bones 2009 executive order into a longer, more robust administrative code, and for a second time in late March 2013, amending the administrative code language.

Sunlight identified in our Open Data Policy Guidelines the importance of future review for potential changes to policy and law, and we were glad to see that San Francisco’s most recent amendment not only incorporated many more of Sunlight’s Guidelines, but also broke ground in the United States municipal open data policy world -- arguably taking the title from New York City. Of significance, San Francisco’s amended ordinance creates new oversight authority to review implementation of their open data policy requirements (Sunlight guideline #27) by creating the position of Chief Data Officer (CDO) and requiring the appointment of Department Data Coordinators (DCs) to assist in the implementation of San Francisco’s open data policy. The CDO is tasked with working with DCs to create an open data plan for each Department including: “a timeline for the publication of the Department’s open data and a summary of open data efforts” (#22) and “a summary description of all data sets under the control of each Department” (#18). The CDO is also responsible for creating an annual citywide implementation plan, while each department is delegated to conduct quarterly reviews of their progress, the combination of which sets up procedural expectations that help ensure data quality (#17). The amended language also calls on the CDO to produce analytics on the use of San Francisco’s data portal, DataSF, (as recommended by guideline #32 and incredibly important in determining usefulness and in cost benefit analysis), but unfortunately does spell out specific requirements of these analytics.

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