Developing an Open Data Policy

Open data policies are a critical foundation for effective open data programs. Generally, policies are developed on two levels:

  • An executive order or city ordinance (or "law") creates a broad legal framework including open data definitions, scope of participation, high-level timelines, roles, a governance plan, and funding allocations;
  • Governance documents detail how each aspect of the law will be accomplished, including prioritizing data for release, keeping public data up to date, and engaging with the public. Note that this is not the same as a project plan, which may also be needed.

Although a small team of city staff will likely develop these documents, feedback should be obtained from a broad set of stakeholders both within and outside city government.

The Sunlight Foundation provides guidelines and assistance for developing open data policies.

Executive orders and city ordinances generally:

  • establish broad program goals
  • define terms (e.g., “data,” “open data,” etc.)
  • specify program scope (e.g., government branches, departments, etc.)
  • assemble a governance committee and define member roles (see Governance Committee)
  • identify governance documents to be developed (see below)
  • outline a high-level schedule (for developing the governance plan, launching a site, and reaching data publishing goals)
  • create of a central, online catalog to help the public find data
  • require public input for each of the above, as appropriate

Governance documents generally include:

  • goals for measuring success
  • rules and guidance on identifying and prioritizing data for publication
  • requirements to ensure the protection of sensitive information
  • policies which will be embedded into other government functions, such as procurement or IT project management
  • processes for publishing and refreshing data
  • quality standards for the data being published
  • communications strategy, including engaging external stakeholders and getting internal buy in
  • liability limitations for published data

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