DoTank

Building on the work of the federal Open Government Initiative and the work of pathbreaking cities such as Portland and San Francisco, many municipalities are looking for ways to collaborate better with residents to identify innovative solutions common challenges informed by public data.

New York City, too, has been considering legislation for the last two years to create the framework for systematic publication of information on the Internet in formats that the public can reuse. With this data, people can conduct research and analysis to make the city work better and more effectively. They can also develop new tools, such as educational computer programs or handheld applications, to help the public make better choices or just to inform themselves about New York City with the kind of granular information that only city agencies have. Most importantly, open data is means to the end of fostering greater democratic participation and collaboration between the people and their government.

Both the City Council and the Administration are working on new drafts with an eye toward introducing (and passing, we hope!) legislation again. We know from experience that there’s a very big gap to bridge between ambitious principles of full-scale transparency and the practical realities of making data universally available online in real-time in open formats. There are technical, political, legal, and cultural hurdles to overcome.

In the hope of helping New York City’s government and public interest groups with crafting the legislation and translating the law into a practical implementation plan for day-to-day transparency, the Democracy Design Workshop at New York Law School has put together the attached PowerPoint “deck” with some suggestions for how to “do open data” practically and effectively.

We draw on previous legislation implemented by other cities (San Francisco and Portland) as well as language from the federal Open Government Directive and a model open government policy.

The deck is divided into two parts. The first, Open Data Policy, focuses on suggestions for drafting open data legislation. Secondly, Open Data Practice addresses suggestions for crafting an implementation strategy.

In our policy drafting legislation section, we discuss the value proposition, how to define data, the meaning of open formats, how to discuss implementation in the legislation, strategies for setting priorities, deadlines and milestones, enforcement, the use of prizes and challenges, and the budget.

In addition to our suggestions for drafting policy, we have also included tips for implementing the policy in practice, including ideas for releasing data early and often; identifying priorities and then looking for the data that addresses those problems; and creating a public-private SWAT team to advise agencies on their open data strategy.

This deck is a work in progress and we welcome your comments; we owe tremendous gratitude to our friends Andrew Hoppin, Advisor at CivicCommons, as well as to Jay Nath, Manager of Innovation at City and County of San Francisco, and Stefaan Verhulst, Manager of Research at Markle Foundation, for their advice and assistance.

Download the deck here.