A couple weeks back I wrote about how the civic tech and open data community could tie our timing and work to public consultation processes, and why this is a good idea. In discussing this with some colleagues last week (particular thank you to Kevin in Bristol – check out their great data portal), I realized the post fell short on listing the full set of benefits of this approach – there are more.
When the City does its usual business, which can mean things like: an avenue study, a transportation planning project, a services review, it starts looking at data related to that project internally, the data needed to do the work. This is required, and starts before any of the consultation is planned. If the City needs to update data or maps, it’s when these projects start. If part of a consultant team is going to help fill out the data or maps, it’s when these projects start. The data is warm, so to speak. It’s not (figuratively) sitting in a dusty folder, it’s already on the table. It has people’s attention already because it matters, like, now. This creates an opportunity to create internal advocates and supporters at the City – data users (aka, City staff) want good data too. And maybe it doesn’t all have to be open. But that discussion can be part of the process.
Point is, if the City is already paying attention to data for an internal reason, it makes for a much more opportune time to see if any of it could be opened. Or to explore if any related data could support the work being done.
So for anybody looking for more open City data, begin by looking at what the City is doing. Period. Then think from there as how to be a supportive partner. For cities looking to create their own open data policy and approach, in terms of what to open and why, data related to immediate city business makes for a clear-cut and compelling rationale.
It’s always felt somewhat difficult to rationalize expenditures on open data when affordable housing, water infrastructure, transit systems and many more things need attention. This city business first approach enables concurrent attention on already pressing issues. The medium-term approach has a lot more to do with procurement, data management systems and other larger bits and pieces, but that’s a separate story. For now, as we work data set by data set, following city business creates a leading light for where to open data next.