Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the week of March 13, 2015

March 20, 2015 4:00 am PST | Data as a Service

Happy Sunshine Week! It’s America’s annual celebration of access to government information, and gives those of us who eat, breathe, and sleep transparency a chance to look around at inspiring public servants and civic-tech initiatives across the country. 

Sunshine Week, 10 Years Later

Marking the 10th anniversary of Sunshine Week, Eric Newton sized up the event’s progress in Newton is a senior advisor at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which launched and continues to fund Sunshine Week. Held every spring near the birthday of James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, the event’s agenda is, “to brazenly promote your right to know.” Newton cites numerous examples of transparency success, from publication of life-threatening flaws in Marines’ body armor to intelligence spending, but also notes that, “governments big and small are affected,” by a lack of opennness. He invites citizens nationwide to join Sunshine Week, remarking, “In the long run, your participation is the only thing that really matters.” 

Salute to Data Sharers

“Last year, commissioners in six metro counties did something remarkable,” comments James Eli Shiffer in “They made their land records free and available online, after years of selling that data.” Local transparency pioneer Geoffrey Maas, the Metro GIS coordinator for Minnesota’s Metro Council, blazed that trail after realizing that charging for the information was actually costing metropolitan governments in tech and sales support. Also, as Shiffer quotes Maas, the new accessibility, “really facilitates transparency in government, and it’s an engine of entrepreneurship.” 

L.A.’s Data Chief: It’s About Community 

Gearing up for the 2015 Summit on Data, California Forward quizzed the City of Los Angeles’ Chief Data Officer Abhi Nemani on how to create an open data ecosystem. Nemani emphasized the benefit of, “a community of people who care about data, who care about the government, and know how to use data.” Specific to Los Angeles, Nemani said the city has “a foundation in place within Los Angeles for a really compelling community,” and predicted, “an organic growth to open data throughout the state.” He gave a shout-out especially to California’s public health system, citing its open data track record and its great open data portal. “You’re seeing the beginning of the open data movement,” he declared.

Open Data Powers Civic Involvement 

Buffalo needs more transparency, argues Denise Jewell Gee in the Buffalo News. She cites the example of Brian Borncamp, founder of Buffalo Open Data, who coded his own app to sort through the city’s property records to find a vacant, low-cost property. Borncamp, “might have found his answer quickly,” if he lived in one of the major metropolitan areas embracing open data as, “the idea that public information should not just be made available to those who ask for it, but should be easy to find and use.” She points out, “building a vibrant city is about engaging the public.”


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