Part 1

Opening Government Data

Editor’s Note

In the first section, we consider the challenges and outcomes of opening government data through a series of practical case studies.

In Chapter 1, civic software developer Joel Mahoney tells the story of how opening government data changed the conversation around Boston’s school assignment policies, which have been a topic of debate since the 1960s. Open data, he argues, not only contributes to a more informed public discourse, but can play a key role in upholding core democratic values, like aligning policy with societal goals.

Next, in Chapter 2, we turn to the City of Chicago, which pioneered one of the most comprehensive municipal open data programs in the country. Brett Goldstein, who was Chicago’s first Chief Data Officer, tells the story of building Chicago’s open data efforts from the ground up. Providing a first-hand account of the internal workings of city hall, he shares what they learned about building sustainable technical infrastructure for open data.

In Chapter 3, we examine another angle of Chicago’s open data initiative. Daniel X. O’Neil, Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, has worked closely with the City of Chicago’s open data team and local open data activists to advance the city’s progress in this space. He breaks down the key components of data, policy, developers, capital, and products that have allowed a sustainable open data ecosystem to develop in Chicago.

Emer Coleman—founder of the London Datastore, one of the flagship open data efforts in a major city—tells us about open data in a non-US context in Chapter 4. She gives a personal perspective on the establishment of the Datastore, the policy context that preceded it, and the challenges of data release in the public sector.

Finally, we examine how open data can have big impact in smaller cities—not just highly resourced urban areas. In Chapter 5, Jonathan Feldman, Chief Information Officer of Asheville, North Carolina (population 85,000), writes about open data as a long-term investment and explores some of the challenges and opportunities specific to smaller local governments. Through a case study of how Asheville’s emerging open data efforts can save city resources, he urges other small cities to consider the pragmatics of open data.