Identifying and Preparing Data for Release

One of the first steps in an open data program is developing a plan to release data to the public. This plan is often broken into two stages: collecting a specific selection of data in preparation for launching the portal, and releasing additional data periodically after launch.

Before the portal is launched, the focus is usually on low-hanging fruit that can be quickly gathered and organized. A quick analysis of what other cities have published can help identify data for publishing. In many cases, cities already publish some data, though it is rarely catalogued in a single place. Using a search engine to find data file types on the city website can yield some excellent results. Though they should be reviewed, they likely do not need evaluation to determine if they should be made public, because they already are. Finally, data that drives, informs, or tracks administration priorities are strong candidates for quick release. This data often already has a lot of attention both within and outside the government; making it open reinforces commitments to solving civic challenges.

Once the portal launches, a more strategic approach to releasing public data is adopted. This approach is usually documented in the governance plan, and includes considering public requests for data. The opportunities to open data relevant to administration priorities increases, especially if the executive sponsor(s) of the open data program are closely involved in planning and managing those priorities and their related public engagement activities. Data can also be periodically released in themes such as education, recreation, or transportation. This approach can be excellent for fostering data consumption, but can be challenged by limited resources at a few specific agencies which represent the theme.

Data preparation, another important part of the governance plan, involves extracting information from its sources, transforming it as needed to suit the purposes of the city and the public, and reviewing it for compliance and other issues before publishing it. This process ensures that sensitive information isn’t inappropriately released, data values are understandable to consumers, and quality is preserved. During the early stages of an open data program, data preparation is often done by hand, but this is unsustainable as the program grows. Information technology tools are frequently used to automate data publishing at scale, and are critical to ensuring pre-existing public information is kept up-to-date.

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