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Tag Archive: open data policy guidelines

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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How Unique is the New U.S. Open Data Policy?

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The White House’s new Executive Order may be significantly different than the open data policies that have come before it on the federal level, but where does it stand in a global -- and local -- context? Many folks have already jumped at the chance to compare this new US executive order and the new policies that accompany it to a similar public letter issued by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, but little attention has been paid to one of the new policy’s most substantial provisions: the creation of a public listing of agency data based on an internal audits of information holdings. As administrative as this provision might sound, the creation of this listing (and the accompanying scoping of what information isn’t yet public, but could be released) is part of the next evolution of open data policies (and something Sunlight has long called for as a best practice). So does this policy put the U.S. on the leading edge?

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Open Data Executive Order Shows Path Forward

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cords Today, the White House is issuing a new Executive Order on Open Data -- one that is significantly different from the open data policies that have come before it -- reflecting Sunlight's persistent call for stronger public listings of agency data, and demonstrating a new path forward for governments committing to open data. This Executive Order and the new policies that accompany it cover a lot of ground, building public reporting systems, adding new goals, creating new avenues for public participation, and laying out new principles for openness, much of which can be found in Sunlight's extensive Open Data Policy Guidelines, and the work of our friends and allies. Most importantly, though, the new policies take on one of the most important, trickiest questions that these policies face -- how can we reset the default to openness when there is so much data? How can we take on managing and releasing all the government's data, or as much as possible, without negotiating over every dataset the government has?

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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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A Look at Utah’s Future in Open Data

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Open data policies can come in different shapes, sizes, and strengths. The most common and idealized form aims to mandate or direct energy toward open data specifically (reflected in the recent wave of municipal referendums). Another takes the focus off of open data, and instead tucks related provisions into policies for other issue areas (a neat example is this (now tabled) Viriginia education bill, introduced in January). The open data legislation passed yesterday by Utah reflects a third form: the mandated plan. We’ve seen this model before, most recently in Montgomery County, MD. In essence, this sort of legislation directs a particular agency (or, in Utah’s case, overhauls a snoozing Transparency Advisory Board) to study and make recommendations for online, best practice data disclosure. Although it’s easy to think of these policies as a punt, this sort of reallocation of attention, time, and expertise can actually be a move to stabilize and ensure thoughtful implementation and real enforcement of an open data agenda -- so long as it’s executed well, actually moves from planning to action, and operates start to finish within the public’s eye. Utah’s Board will be one to watch, with a unique combination of state agency actors, legislators, archivists, technologists, county and municipal reps, and two members of the public. It’s a team that hints at greater ambitions for Utah’s approach to future online publication of data, one that seems to be looking, at least tentatively, outside the State House and towards Utah’s local governments. But we won’t know for sure until the board turns around its first series of recommendations, due by November 30, 2013.

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Greetings from #OpenData Land

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Publishing open data has many practical and normative implications which can be noted and explored in the text of the open data policy. We've rounded up some of the interesting reasons policymakers in cities across the country have pursued these policies. Check them out in our #opendata policy postcards.

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