Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How far we have come with Open Raleigh


Site analytics for Open Raleigh from launch date to today.
Note the exponential rise in page views over time.
Access Open Raleigh at https://data.raleighnc.gov
This summer we start on the implementation of the post-beta version of Open Raleigh. We now have a steering committee and buy-in on our road-map is underway. Culturally the city is ready for open data. I wanted to look back on the previous 9 months and see how far we have come in delivering on the City Council's resolution from February 2012.

This is an exciting time and we are just getting started. Looking back, I am impressed with the leadership that governs our municipality and the quality of the people that work in my department. I have made friends inside the city government as well as friends with my trusted citizen advisers and activists.

None of this would have been possible without the friendship and guidance of the dozens of people I have met along the way. That first day, September 17th 2012, I looked at a clean desk and blank screen and asked myself what will happen? I could not be more pleased at how things turned out.

How Open Raleigh Started

The City of Raleigh has a long history of open, collaborative government by engaging with citizens to provide a high level of customer service. In February 2012, the Raleigh City Council unanimously adopted an Open Source Resolution. This was the first of many steps designed to make it easier to get information and interact with city government. Raleigh is committed to an open source strategy that highlights transparency, collaboration, and improved access to local government information and data.

In the months that followed the passing of the resolution the city realized it needed outside expertise to fulfill its mission. The City of Raleigh recruited an Open Data Program manager to lead Raleigh’s open data effort.

In September, 2012, I was recruited from Durham Public Schools to serve as the first Open Data Program Manager for the City of Raleigh.

Since the passing of the resolution, I have engaged with citizen groups, youth development programs, entrepreneurs, and businesses to create an open data roadmap. My open data roadmap was created as a living document under the guiding principles of availability and access, reuse and redistribution, and universal participation. The open data roadmap moves the City forward in creating a set of open data policies. These policies are developed in an open and transparent way.

On March 15, 2013, Raleigh published a beta version of its open data catalog. The open data catalog allows access to city data sets in open and standard ways for technical and non-technical users.

The City of Raleigh is a partner in the open government community and strives to become a worldwide model for an open source city. We do this through evangelizing the model of regionalism, collaboration and by developing our model in a transparent setting. The city strives to develop opportunities for economic development, commerce, increased investment, and civic engagement. This open initiative will be an ongoing citizen partnership offering more resources and data over time.

The Roadmap of Open Raleigh

My vision of Open Raleigh and transparency are about more than sharing data sets. Open Raleigh is a shared collaborative model of governance between citizens and the City of Raleigh government. Open Raleigh seeks to narrate the story of the city through the transformation of data into relevant information.

The City of Raleigh’s Open Source Resolution committed the City to creating a common and secure data-sharing infrastructure based on a suite of agreed upon, open standards. The Open Raleigh initiative required the City to implement a cross-departmental data strategy. 

This internal strategy focuses primarily on the opportunity to harness data to redesign and improve public service information, transparency and transactions. It was important to develop a framework that views data as infrastructure and fosters a culture of data stewardship within the City organization. The Open Raleigh initiative must align with the Raleigh City Council’s mission, the organization’s business objectives, and the Information Technology strategic plan.

I moved Raleigh toward a regional collaborative model that has brought international media attention to the Raleigh-Durham region and has fostered several open data initiatives at the municipal, county and state level within North Carolina. This was not done with complete altruism. The impact of open data in Raleigh will be enhanced by partnering with neighboring jurisdictions. Open cannot end at the city boundary. The data ecosystem must be focused on the cultural boundaries of our region.

Regionalism and the idea of “Data as a Public Asset”

In May, we kicked off the first Steering Committee meeting that oversees the city’s open data initiative. Our first task was to document the process. The second task is to make open and transparent the policy making process and invite the public to weigh in. I want to present our policy to the city and have it become a template to how departments release data into “the wild”. 

The City of Raleigh is in the process of publishing all data sets that comply with the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Government Data Definition. These datasets will be available in a central repository for analysis without license and without restriction on use. The beta release of the open data portal uses Socrata, a SaaS platform, to publish datasets. 

I embraced the concept of “data as infrastructure”. Data as a public asset is what the open data initiative hinges upon. Like a physical asset, the city’s data assets are infrastructure. Data assets can be merged, analyzed and compiled by anyone. Citizens and businesses can create information and economic opportunities from the city’s data infrastructure.
Raleigh is enabling transparency and openness as a process starting with open data and progressing through open services to open government. In my thinking, open government is a process rather than an outcome. Like any process, there will be refinement and several iterations before a seasoned and tested methodology and work flow emerges.

Open Raleigh is under development and will continue to evolve with experience and public input. A primary objective is a framework that supports a culture of openness and transparency and leads to an open government process.

The Open Raleigh initiative currently focuses on:

  • Building and managing the project team and working with stakeholders both internally and externally to refine the final project scope
  • Developing an open data governance structure to include the development and engagement of an oversight committee and steering committee
  • Completing an inventory and release timeline for additional data sets.

Open Raleigh’s Achievements

Open Raleigh delivers value to Raleigh citizens by:

  • Enhancing transparency
  • Enabling participation
  • Providing improved insight into government services

Open Raleigh's benefit to community at large:

  • Sharing key performance indicators and allowing collaboration on policies and processes
  • Citizens can engage with the city in a positive productive manner and the city can benefit from subject matter expert citizen participation.
  • The open data portal has potential to provide economic benefits in terms of local and regional companies developing mobile and web based applications that use this data.
  • Economic development may be stimulated by making data available at no cost or low cost to business interests and civic advocates.
  • Indirect economic benefits include attracting businesses to relocate due to enhanced transparency.