Open Cities

The Sunlight Foundation supports open government as a fundamental democratic principle. Open data policies represent a critical means for achieving that objective. In early 2013, we launched a new initiative to address an emergent need for research and expertise in open data policy and practice among American cities of all sizes. We quickly became a leader in the field, providing analysis, thought-leadership, and best practice guidelines. Our Open Cities team now actively monitor existing open data and accountability initiatives, analyze case studies, support best practices, and advocate for new policies in cities nationwide.

Through the generous support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Sunlight Open Cities team provides technical assistance alongside world-class partners, to mid-sized American cities participating in the What Works Cities project. In line with Sunlight’s focus on transparency, we support cities’ work on open data policy to help leaders and residents better understand government decision-making, expand knowledge of government services and transactions, and improve access to government processes and decision-makers.

On this page, you’ll find helpful resources related to crafting open data policy, navigating the current local open government landscape, and more.

Building Open Data Policies

Interested in working on an open data policy in your community or exploring how other cities are incorporating open data principles? Browse our key resources on basic open data policy best practices and strategies for implementation.

Public Policy for Public Data

Public Policy for Public Data is a step-by-step playbook for creating an open data policy for your city. It’s an animated checklist of our work with city halls, covering everything from why a policy is important and where to start to what to do after your policy has passed.

Open Data Policies Map

Want to know where all the open data policies are in the United States? There’s a map (and a list) for that. This site also includes links to full policy language, which we encourage new cities to incorporate into their own open data policies.

Open Data Policy Guidelines

The Sunlight Foundation created this list of guidelines as a framework to present a broad vision of the open data challenges that dedicated policies can actively address. These Guidelines are not ranked in order of priority, but organized to help define key elements of any legislation, executive order, or policy seeking to institute open data principles.

Comparison Of Open Data Policies

View a collection of current municipal and state policies in the United States analyzed against our Open Data Policy Guidelines. See actual legislation text compared to the guideline it successfully addresses.

Tactical Data Engagement

Open data policies and portals are invaluable components of improving local governments’ outcomes. When governments are ready to go beyond making data accessible, Tactical Data Engagement is Sunlight’s approach to proactively working with residents to put open data into use.

Open Data Policy Wizard

We’ve created a wizard to help local governments envision the backbone for their city’s legislation based on our open data policy firestarter. The original firestarter is a living document and a standardized text example of what a good open data policy looks like.

  • Local Procurement Policy Guidelines »

    Sunlight and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) developed a set of guidelines to help cities make public contracting data easily accessible and useful to all. Sharing contracting information openly can help governments build public trust, improve the effectiveness of their own agencies, and empower the private sector to make wiser investments.

  • Open Data Policy Crowdlaw Tracker »

    Local governments are increasingly looking for ways to engage stakeholders online in the collaborative design and drafting of open data policy and programs. Sunlight has created an open spreadsheet for tracking cases of these types of collaborative efforts (also called “crowdlaw”).

  • Measuring Policy Impact »

    As cities transition from initiating open data policies to implementing open data standards, we hope to track and measure how policies impact open data creation. As a first step, we analyzed cities with open data policies to see how whether they released quality data after passing their policy. While this initial analysis focuses on important datasets identified by the Open Data Census, we hope to improve our tools for measuring open data impact in the future.

OpenGov Voices + What Works Cities: Stories, case studies, and analysis

Deep Dives

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.

Explore what open data could mean for…

  • Asset disclosure

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

  • Crime

    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

  • Lobbying

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

  • Zoning

    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

Get in touch

If you’d like to talk about ways to open your local government send us an email.