How Washington, D.C., made open data a priority

Fri, 2016-02-05 06:00 -- SCC Partner

Contributed by DowntownDC Business Improvement District

When Matt Bailey, Co-founder of Code for D.C., was before the Transition Committee on Open and Good Government and Full Democracy for the newly-elected mayor of the District of Columbia Muriel Bowser in December of 2014, he testified that “publishing more data and becoming more responsive to FOIA requests, is not enough. D.C.’s residents want and deserve 21st century civic engagement from their government” and he called for the Mayor to “adopt strong open data and open source legislation.”

Five months later the mayor would ask him to take on that responsibility as the city’s first Director of Technology Innovation in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). 

This January OCTO released the new Draft Open Data Policy for public comment utilizing a 21st Century engagement tool, the OpenGov Foundation’slegislative collaborationplatform Madison. The platform provides interested individuals with the ability to not only vote to support or oppose the legislation but to also provide line by line commentary.

Sponsors of the legislation are automatically notified when comments are made or as the multi-tasking Bailey was doing when interviewed, they can set up virtual office hours where they are available to respond immediately to comments.   

Some of the highlights that can be found in the Open Data Policy are:

  • The call for the creation of a "Chief Data Officer" ("CDO"), a senior official reporting to the Chief Technology Officer who has overall responsibility for the data operations, including those related to open data.
  • That the District's data shall be open by default, meaning that agencies must justify why data should not be released publicly in its most complete form rather than the public being obligated to justify why data should be released.
  • The inclusion of open data, open license, and open source requirements in contracting and procurement documents and other agreements with third parties.

While noting that they are just at the beginning of a long process, Bailey felt strongly that the Madison platform had provided a level of transparency and inclusion that was essential for their first step in gaining public buy-in.   

Additionally, he applauded the revival of the DC Open Government Advisory Group­ that will help implement the policy, noting the inclusion of new members representing a broader cross-section of city stakeholders, and in particular members that are able to give voice to traditionally underserved members of the community.