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 operates at a large scale providing technical assistance, alongside world-class partners, to 100 mid-sized American cities participating in the What Works Cities Initiative. In line with our focus on transparency, we’re interested in seeing open data policies contribute to better understanding of government decision-making, improved knowledge of government services and transactions, and improved access to government processes and decision-makers for all residents.

On this page, you’ll find helpful resources related to crafting open data policy, navigating the current local #opengov landscape, and more. To get started, read more about our work on the Sunlight Foundation blog or below.

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 »

In June 2016, we launched our Public Policy for Public Data checklist for open data advocates everywhere, both inside and outside city hall.

After our work with city halls reached over 30 cities, we devised a scalable approach to building open data policies so that we might continue to work with new cities through a standard model. The checklist is that model. It serves as an interactive guide to aid participating What Works Cities and any advocates interested in developing public policy to advance open data practice. The checklist walks users through the various complementary resources we’ve developed for cities throughout our experience advising cities on open data practices.

  • 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.

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    This webpage grew out of the Sunlight Foundation’s open data policy map tracker. By creating this resource and adding a place for users to let us know about new policies as they’re passed, we hope to continue tracking the spread of open data practices. The site provides city staff and advocates a way to explore existing examples of active open data policies and get started with one of their own.

  • Comparison of Open Data Policies »

    This table helps users navigate a collection of current municipal and state policies in the United States analyzed against our Open Data Policy Guidelines. For each place’s policy, legislation text is represented next to the guideline that it successfully addresses. This resource complements as a resource for exploring active open data policies.

  • Tactical Data Engagement »

    A set of strategies and approaches designed to drive community impact by connecting the dots between open data, public stakeholders, and collaborative action.

  • 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. We encourage you to review the firestarter and provide suggestions!

  • 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.