August 4, 2014 By Caty Hirst, McClatchy News Service
Fort Worth has joined the ever-growing community of open data governments by launching an online portal with direct access to information.
“When I came into office, that was one of my campaign promises, that we would get Fort Worth into this century on technology and that we would take a hard look at open records requests and requests for data,” Mayor Betsy Price said. “It goes a lot further to being transparent and letting people participate in their government and see what we are doing. It is the people’s data, and it should be easy to access.”
Open data makes public information freely available for everyone to use and republish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other controls.
The website, data.fortworthtexas.gov, was made public last month and currently has certificates of occupancy, development permits and residential permits available for download in several formats, including Excel and PDF.
The goal is to get the most-requested data online first, said Brian Chatman, content strategy coordinator for the city’s website. The site has easy-to-use tools to visualize the information, such as creating charts or graphs, and also provides a quick way to embed the data onto another website.
The next data to come online will be crime statistics, code violations, and the progress and location of capital projects, Chatman said. He hopes to have those uploaded by October.
“The ultimate goal is that any data we have stored that is public information is available in a clear, easily defined way on that site,” Chatman said. “How many data sets that is, I honestly don’t know. That is going to take a lot of sorting through what departments have and what they need to be able to release.”
The open data policy is part of a broader transformation to Fort Worth’s technology capabilities, which hadn’t seen a major update in five years. The city just completed an audit of its website, and plans to start rolling out a new look, streamlined navigation and a better customer service center later this year.
“Transparency is something we should be doing no matter what. The fact that we haven’t operated this way to date is just a limitation of the technology we had before,” Chatman said.
Price said having the information out in the public will make city government more efficient, improve customer service, and help local businesses, investors and developers make decisions.
One of the hopes is that making the data available to the public will encourage new business ideas and industry, Chatman said.
“We are catching up to the reality of technology, and we are hoping that by doing that we create an ecosystem around municipality data and then that encompasses a larger ecosystem of county data, state data and then up to the federal level,” he said.
For example, since a permit is required in New York to film on the street, a tour company is using that city’s open data to track where the filming will take place and is selling tours.
“Maybe you want to create an app that tracks water usage in your neighborhood but you need that information. We can provide that data to them,” Chatman said.
Eventual data sets could include maps of tax-foreclosed properties, water-usage metrics and the city’s financial information.
Chatman is also urging local software developers and designers to get involved and volunteer to work with the city on the open data project.
He said the group of volunteers will help guide staff in prioritizing what data should be released first, work on apps to go with the data and offer suggestions for coding or interface changes. Interested volunteers can sign up at https://cityoffortworth.wufoo.com/forms/open-data-volunteers.
The open data program cost $45,373 for the initial setup and a partial year of service, and will cost $85,000 annually.
Other open data cities include Austin, San Francisco and Chicago, and Texas is an open data state, according to data.gov.
©2014 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram