August 1, 2012 By Noelle Knell
The Twitterverse was abuzz Wednesday, Aug. 1, about a new layer of data from local governments being added to the federal government’s open data portal, Data.gov. Cities.data.gov now features data sets from four of America’s largest cities — Chicago, Seattle, New York and San Francisco.
While the site specifies that local government data sets aren’t subject to federal data policies, the idea is that comparative data from different levels of government can be useful in informing the work of software developers. Civic hackathons and other organized efforts are using open data from government agencies to drive tech-based improvements that are helping improve the quality of life in local communities.
Cities.data.gov is the first major endeavor of the G7 (Group of 7), big city CIOs who are informally collaborating on issues of mutual concern. Their shared interest and leadership in open data propelled this concept of a multi-jurisdictional clearinghouse of public data sets to the top of the group’s priority list.
G7 member Jon Walton, CIO of San Francisco, expressed a sentiment that seems to be catching on in government. “I think open data is bigger than any one city. Cities.data.gov represents an example of cities moving beyond doing data just for their city or just for their jurisdiction and starting to share data on a unified platform.”
This shared platform going live represents a soft launch that includes data from four of the G7 members — San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and New York. An internal pledge with the full support of the G7 promises that this achievement, while significant, is just the beginning. Walton and other G7 members at different stages of their open data journey hope this important first step will motivate other government leaders to publish their local data sets.
Walton estimates that San Francisco has about 90 percent of its data sets on Cities.data.gov so far, and efforts are ongoing to add remaining information. In fact, the city intends to first publish new data sets to the shared portal, and transition it to be its main open data repository.
Transparency gains by the federal government, as evidenced by sites like USAspending.gov and Data.gov, are encouraging governments at all levels to open up data for the public good. The multi-jurisdictional nature of the data on Cities.data.gov site could help further break down compartmentalized public-sector thinking, helping erase distinctions between government entities that are far less relevant to the public.
Standardized formats are not required to post data to the Cities.data.gov, but as Walton explained, when jurisdictions start to collaborate on shared issues, some standardization will occur in order to maximize the usefulness of the data.
"I think it's really going to open people’s eyes to the power of data and what we can all do with it," he explained. “If we get people out of these silos, and we start sharing it, the development community, the public, the government itself, we're going to see more and more benefits over time.”