Update:April 4, 2012: After all the excitement (mostly on my part) of finally seeing an opendata resolution making its way through city hall, just like that, pow, it’s off again. At a Finance Committee Meeting, two city councilors (Brooks, and the committee Chair, De La Fuente) didn’t show, rendering the meeting null, no quorum, hence no vote to support an opendata resolution for Oakland, hence no change happening yet, no better engagement with the tech community, no new start-up possibilities encouraged just yet…
We are on the agenda now for the next month… sure this can wait, but every extra month it takes is an extra month where our city isn’t improving, isn’t getting better PR, isn’t enabling innovative new solutions that government data can help unlock. And that’s a shame.
March 28: This is an exciting time in the city of Oakland, especially so if
you’re in any way interested in public data, civic engagement, open
government and technology incubation and innovation in your community.
This past week, the City Council’s Finance and Management Committee (sounds fun doesn’t it!) was supposed to hear a resolution requiring the city to move towards a true Open Data platform.
After 18 months of civic hackers, developers, journos and tech heads talking, encouraging, blogging and educating our elected officials, we finally are at a place where our cities enormous data holdings can be utilized for more than mere compliance reporting and perhaps occasional management tasks.
This represents some very real, powerful change for our town. It means that our rich developer community will have a huge trove of data to work with for app development, research, analysis, data visualization, accountability work and for planning of new businesses in the tech and non-tech sectors. It’s a chance for us to not be a lagging city, to really tap the potential we have both internally in City Hall and in our residents.
Imagine being able to quickly and easily find all the current business permits by address, to compare that with the vacant and blighted property datasets, city zoning standards for every parcel, to then add in the best crime data, population demographics and public works calls for service - all the key pieces of information a potential new business owner would want to consider placing a new location in Oakland. Key things that allow commerce to grow and prosper, all available to everyone, at no cost. The potential for our town is huge, city data warehouses, bureaucratic spiderwebs of red tape and uncertainty over what data exists and can be released are a real and present barrier to growth and development in our city, especially in micro-enterprise and new, innovative start-ups.
But this can change.
The resolution hitting the committee, introduced by Councilwoman Libby Schaaf is a result of slow, honest education of our elected officials and leaders of the value of data to both our community and to city staff; and open data policy, process and web portal will mean incredibly smooth access to data for city staff and officials that do not have access even now, which is a travesty. It’s also a result of some fantastic field building efforts courtesy of CivicCommons, Code for America and the Sunlight Foundation.
Now that several other U.S. cities have established Open Data policies and work-flows, I don’t see the need to go through all the pain and red tape of new policies drafted by committees in every single city in the country (ala my piece on Barriers v Processes). I’ll write up the whole process from day one of trying to get a city to consider and implement an Open Data policy once it’s all done, but for now I want to show how the pieces can be massaged to work together.
The resolution and the report for the committee includes concepts, large chunks of text and principles from the following sources:
So we’re not there yet, but it’s finally happening, and I want to make sure the above sources get due credit for making the path straighter for us in Oakland. If we can build and reuse technology in government we sure as hell should be reusing policies, reusing approaches to get new policies in place or at least considered and reusing approaches to highlight the value of opendata for our local governments.
Lastly, regarding the build-out of an open data portal for Oakland, as we planned (via Urban Strategies Council and the Code for America Brigade), we are going to wait for this resolution to pass, hoping that the city administrator or mayor’s staff will be willing to really engage us and the tech community to plan and help build out a system for both the community and the city to use and manage. I’d always prefer a partnership approach than a solo gunman approach. Hopefully this will be the first big opportunity for the city to open up and work with its very skilled, motivated tech community.
Cross-posted to http://tmblr.co/ZWSpEwIex7Jp