Open Data Resources

Roadmap to Informed Communities

Working toward open government but unsure how to bring in community members? We’ve piloted innovative approaches to open data and information for community problem-solving, and we’re proud to announce a new roadmap for local governments and data providers.

Sunlight’s Roadmap to Informed Communities guides open data champions through our Tactical Data Engagement framework and provides modular resources for problem-scoping, user research, co-creation, and community partnerships for open data. Our resources are targeted to city governments looking to make their open data programs more impactful by targeting open data to residents’ needs. Residents can benefit from open information by using it to solve local problems and have an equal say local decisions.

Open Data Policy Hub

Interested in working on an open data policy in your community or exploring how other cities are incorporating open data principles? Need to learn more about open data policy before formalizing your city’s commitment?

Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Hub is a “one-stop shop” for drafting, crafting, and enacting open data policy. We created the Open Data Policy Hub as an easy-to-use, accessible platform for anyone looking to begin building an open data policy on their own — replacing content that had been spread out across five different websites and resources. Use the Hub to learn more about our research on open data policy, find examples of other cities’ policies, guidance on creating your own, and template language to get you started.


More than 100 cities across the United States have committed to more transparent and accountable government by passing open data policies. Many are applying these same principles to the policymaking process itself by working with residents to draft, review, and weigh in on open data policies. This process is called crowdlaw.

Crowdlaw can be used for any type of policy or legislation, but it is uniquely suited for open data policy. Both crowdlaw and open data are rooted in the principle that democratic government is a participatory and collaborative exercise, and that the role of government staff is not to make decisions themselves but to facilitate community decision-making whenever possible.

That means successful crowdlaw processes require more than simply posting draft policy language online. City staff must also proactively invite collaboration from residents, encouraging robust participation from diverse constituencies in a given municipality. While crowdlaw provides the framework for collaborative policy-making, it’s up to community leaders and government decision-makers to demonstrate that they value co-creating policy with residents. This process isn’t always straightforward, but we’ve found that it almost always results in stronger policies that are community-supported from day one.

To help more cities succeed with a crowdlaw approach we’ve created a number of resources to help city staff think about the crowdlaw process comprehensively, from drafting a policy, posting it online, and inviting diverse collaboration from community members, to completing comments, reporting back, and enacting the final policy.

Participatory Open Data Policy: A how-to guide for crowdlaw approaches

This guide outlines how to run an outstanding crowdlaw process for open data policies. It is designed to help city staff think about the crowdlaw process comprehensively, from drafting a policy, posting it online, inviting diverse collaboration from community members, completing comments, reporting back, and enacting the final policy. Throughout the guide, you will find templates that you can use as the starting point for your own planning and communications materials. Read the guide ››

Crowdlaw for open data policy tracker

Want to know how other cities have used a crowdlaw approach? Sunlight keeps track of every city that has used crowdlaw for open data policy.


Since crowdlaw hinges on listening to and understanding potential open data users, it shares similarities with Sunlight’s Tactical Data Engagement (TDE) approach. We encourage cities interested in crowdlaw to also see our resources on TDE for further guidance on collaborative approaches to open data practice as well as to policy. Additionally, check out the GovLab’s CrowdLaw Catalog, which lists examples of crowdlaw approaches that have been tried around the world.

Open Data Tools

We’ve written about why cities should publish open data on our Open Data Policy Hub, and why they should learn more about connecting open data to residents’ needs with our Tactical Data Engagement Guide. But once they’ve created a policy foundation for open data, and governments have begun publishing data, residents and  civic technologists can use these tools to begin monitoring specific types of data for accessibility and applicability to local issues. Community members and technologists can use the following tools to catalog existing open data and begin joining it for impactful end uses.

U.S. City Open Data Census

The U.S. City Open Data Census is a benchmarking tool that gives city staff and residents an understanding of what datasets are available in their city, and how their city compares to others across the country when it comes to open government data.

SQL for Housing Data

Based on a tool by the Dallas Morning News, this open-source data tool helps advocates and data users interested in exploring and applying housing data to join and process foundational, high-value datasets necessary for understanding housing issues.  Learn More


As part of our exploration of best practices for open data generally, we also examine the potential impact of opening specific kinds of information. Our “Deep Dives” take the magnifying glass to priority data for different communities, highlighting the current state of this data across the country, crafting recommendations for how its disclosure could be improved, and sharing demonstrations of just what happens when this information is made available and accessible.

Housing *NEW*

Housing quality and availability affect everyone. Advocates need to know more about property data to help people get into quality, affordable homes, but housing data can be hard to use unless you know how. Learn More

Asset disclosure

Asset disclosure can help answer questions about the basic integrity of government officials. Learn More


Lobbying might evoke images of power brokers in Washington, D.C., but lobbyists are also influential at the local level of policy. Learn More

Campaign Finance

Campaign finance disclosure is an essential public accountability mechanism. Providing public access to this kind of information about the flow of money in politics empowers oversight and accountability in the government decision-making process. Learn More


Zoning impacts the most physical elements of our communities and daily lives — from the location of your local supermarket (and what you can purchase there) to the size and height of your home. Learn More


Crime impacts every community. The information generated from incidents of crime fuels a wide variety of news stories and apps that keep people updated on important public safety issues. Learn More

The latest on open data

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Further reading

Open Data 101

Educational Materials

Community Building