What Is Open Data?

Data are electronic records stored in computer systems. In the simplest terms, data are lists of things such as requests for service, inventories, or incidents, which include helpful details such as dates, locations, images, video, and more.

Open data makes these electronic records accessible in whole or in part to the public. This practice is considered proactive disclosure - making information available without it being requested. While industry experts often refer to the Eight Principles of Open Data, it is helpful to initially focus on the following elements:

  • Open data is online. Cities proactively provide open data through the internet, giving the public the ability to find and use open data without waiting for a response or approval.
  • Open data is free. Cities do not require payment from anyone to obtain open data.
  • Open data is non-proprietary. Cities do not require data consumers to have specific software programs in order to use open data.
  • Open data is unrestricted. Cities do not restrict the use, interpretation, or redistribution of open data through copyright or other terms of use.
  • Open data is machine-processable. Cities do not require data consumers to scrape data out of "locked-up" formats like PDFs in order to use it, instead using data formats like CSV, JSON or XML.

A commitment to becoming "open by default" means that as long as data are not specifically prohibited from being published, they will eventually become open and freely accessed, used, modified, and shared by anyone, for any purpose. Cities can use open data to deliver results, increase resident engagement, and promote transparency.

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