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Tag Archive: Open Data Principles

Boilerplate Open Data Policy and Why It’s a Problem

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In preparation for the revamping of our Open Data Policy Guidelines, we reviewed all twenty-three  of the current local (city, county and state) open data policies on the books since their debut in 2006. These “open data policies” ranged in form from government administrative memos ordering the release of “high-value” datasets to legislation calling for open data policy planning to the newest member of the open data policy family, South Bend, Indiana’s executive order. Our main takeaway: There has been a lot of copying and pasting amongst policies, confusion on common open data terminology, and missed opportunities for information disclosure, but best practices are emerging.

Copying and pasting boilerplate legislative language is as old as law itself. In fact, legal precedent is built on throwbacks, edits, and remixes. The modern day copying and pasting feature has served as a technological blessing in legal matters that require a high level of repetition, such as producing demand letters for common legal claims, or, for one of Sunlight’s favorite exercises of individual rights, completing a public records or freedom of information request. However, when copying and pasting enters more nuanced areas of law, such as contract or legislation drafting, significant complications can arise. Without the proper edits or engaged collaborative thinking required in policy drafting, the ever tempting copy/paste model falls short. Below we explore just how borrowed open data legislative language thus far has been and examples of where it’s been the least helpful.

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Announcing the Open Data Policy Guidelines, Version 2.0

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As more communities recognize the power and possibilities of sharing public data online, there is an increasing need to articulate what it means to open data -- and how to create policies that can not only support these efforts, but do so in a sustainable and ambitious way. To this end, we are releasing the second version of Sunlight’s Open Data Policy Guidelines. Originally authored last summer and informed by the great work of our peers and allies, the Guidelines are a living document created to help define the landscape of what open data policies can and should do. For this latest version, we’ve reordered and slightly rephrased the Guidelines’ 32 provisions for clarity. We’ve also grouped them into three categories as a way of demonstrating that open data policies can define What Data Should Be Public, How to Make Data Public and How to Implement Policy.

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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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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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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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