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How to Develop Your Open Data Policy
An official open data policy is one of the most effective ways to obtain organizational support and transformational change with your open data initiative. Pioneering organizations like New York City, Chicago, Montgomery County, New York State, and Halifax have all adopted official open data policies to increase transparency, further agency goals, and create economic opportunities for citizens.
Below you will find a link to some of these open data policies. Use them as a reference when developing your own.
“Open Data is a bit of a misnomer because it can be so much more than that. It isn’t just about open data, it is a catalyst for the cultural transformation many governments are trying to spur.”
David Eaves, Open Innovation Expert, Eaves Consulting
Elements of an Effective Open Data Policy
Consider three areas when creating your open data policy:
Why are you launching an open data program? What do you hope to achieve? Share this information in your policy. Be explicit and help people understand the benefit of spending time and energy on open data.
Specify the types of data sets to be included in your portal. You can limit them to certain areas, such as finance or crime, or be more inclusive. We recommend including as much data as possible.
For example, New York City’s policy explicitly states that all city data that does not contain personal information should be on the open data portal. They have an “open by default” mandate. This means that all public data is considered “open data” unless it contains personal information about citizens. This approach makes it easier to get all agencies to publish their data on the open data portal. Plus, you’ll save yourself time you would have spent answering the question, “What do I publish?”
Use your open data policy to designate the roles of specific stakeholders within your open data program. The city of Chicago, for example, used its policy to create a working group between department heads and Chief Data Officer Brett Goldstein. The group convenes on a regular basis to discuss how each department is contributing to the mayor’s open data initiative.
Read “Guidelines for Open Data Policies,” a living document from the Sunlight Foundation on the kinds of challenges that open data policies can address.
Examples of Open Data Policies
Looking for more help with your open data initiative? The city of Edmonton has published an Open Data Toolkit full of useful resources.
City of Chicago
In the fall of 2012, the city of Chicago released an official open data policy, though it already had a very successful open data program. The executive order from Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for full organizational support. The policy mandated the formation of an advisory group, led by the city’s chief data officer. It meets on a regular basis to discuss each agency’s open data goals.
New York City
The city of New York is the originator of “open by default.” New York City’s open data policy states, “…it is in the best interest of New York City that its agencies and departments make their data available online using open standards.” In addition, Mayor Bloomberg, chief digital officer Rachel Hoat, and many other government officials have worked to create one of the most thorough plans for a digital city in the 21st century called the “2012 Digital Roadmap.” This document details, among many things, the benefits of open data to a 21st century city.
New York State
In 2012, New York State’s Committee on Open Government released a report to the governor and the legislature with a wish list of transparency and accountability recommendations. The key request was that state and local governments and public entities expand their use of “open data” formats to “whenever possible.” While transparency was a goal, the committee saw value in reducing the effort needed to fulfill Freedom of Information Law requests from the public.