Chapter 2: Release Data Proactively and in Accordance with Public Demand
True engagement requires a two-way conversation between the public and government. As cities develop open data strategic plans and cultivate their open data communities, many are trying to determine the best way to release the datasets that are meaningful and useful to the public. This should include releasing data that shows how the city measures progress toward its strategic goals. Often, releasing new data results in questions about that data and increased demand for additional data. This is great news! It means your initial engagement efforts are having a positive effect. Thanks to the ingenuity and experimentation of some cities, several follow-up strategies have emerged.
As cities conduct data inventories and release them online, leading innovators are engaging their residents in a dialogue about which datasets they are most interested in accessing. Philadelphia, PA, built a public comment forum into its data inventory, so the city and fellow community members could gauge public demand and prioritize release accordingly. Chattanooga, TN, also has a Dataset Suggestion section of its open data catalog, and is continually thinking about ways to involve residents in prioritizing release. When creating an online forum you will want to consider privacy and moderation policies. For example, Data.gov allows anonymous input and is explicit about its moderation policy. San Jose, CA, held stakeholder engagement meetings with its business, academic and research, and nonprofit communities to discuss the kinds of data these groups were interested in accessing and to brainstorm plans for releasing the data in a usable format. Sometimes data requests ask for data that the city does not collect or data that is maintained by another jurisdiction. Having a public inventory of possible datasets to request is an easy way help the public make informed requests for data.
Cities can measure public demand for data by tracking information requested through formal public records, Freedom of Information Act, Sunshine Law, Right to Know Law, and Public Information Act requests. It can also track analytics from the city’s website, intradepartmental data requests, or 311 requests (particularly for seasonal or special event information). In partnership with Code for America (CfA), Oakland, CA, built RecordTrac, a database that made every public records request open to the public, including messages or documents uploaded by agency staff. This approach saves staff time by allowing residents to search for their information, eliminating duplicative requests and promoting transparency. The city relied on its partnership with CfA, which pairs local governments with teams of technologists for one year. More information on CfA can be found in the Community Capacity Toolkit. San Francisco, CA, has begun building performance metrics into its open data program. The city includes activity, quality, and impact metrics in its open data performance plans. San Francisco also uses web page analytics to determine what data assets get the most hits and downloads, calling on that data to inform its next round of data releases.
Questions to Consider
- How easy is it for the public to request data in your city?
- Do you have developer and communications capacity to add comment functionality to your website?
- Would publishing your city’s data inventory online help encourage this conversation?
- Does your city prioritize releasing frequently requested datasets?
- Do you know who frequently requests data in your city?
- Are there networks that you can tap into to draw additional members of the public into the conversation?
Related Tools and GovEx Resources