Queen Anne’s County Raises the Bar for Open Government
Queen Anne’s County is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and offers miles of scenic Chesapeake Bay waterways and acres of pastoral rural landscapes. But, don’t let its tranquil appearance fool you, the county has embraced open government principles and has now become the first in its region to launch an open data program — Open Data Queen Anne’s County. We talked with Jonathan Seeman, Director of Budget, Finance & Information Technology, to find out how Queen Anne’s County did it and what governments of all sizes we can learn from their experiences.
Socrata: What’s your vision for your open data program?
Seeman: Queen Anne’s County is rich in history with lots of wonderful people, both in county government and in our communities. We want this information to “tell our story.” We want to give our residents information that helps them learn about what the county government does, what services we deliver, and what these services cost. We want to highlight some of the great things we are doing and bring citizens and businesses into the fold.
Socrata: Why was this project important to take on?
Seeman: Although Queen Anne’s County government staff have always welcomed citizen requests for information and have stressed the importance of transparency in government, we were anxious to now be able to present this information in one “clearinghouse” such as Socrata has developed.
Socrata:And, how do you hope the program will affect your community and your staff?
Seeman: Queen Anne’s County wants its citizens to know where their tax money is going and how it is being spent. It’s also important for citizens to know how their taxes are calculated with assessments, where crimes are occurring and the types of crimes, how to obtain information on permits, and the location and scope of current major county projects, among other things.
Within county government, we hope to place our most frequently requested FOIA requests in Open Data. For example, county property assessment data for mortgage companies, vendor lists from local businesses, and detailed county budget information are common requests that we get in our offices.
By placing this information in Open Data on a frequent basis, we hope that citizens, businesses, and other interested parties will be able to obtain this information directly and as frequently as needed, without having to visit or call staff.
Socrata: What should other governments consider when starting a program like yours?
Seeman: Think about the documents you create and share every day. Which groups of citizens or business come into your office often and what do they ask for? What information do you think is interesting about your city, county, state, or department? Governments do great things for their communities. Share the projects you’re working on, the statistics you track, and put it out there.