Boston builds on open data initiatives

The new Open and Protected Data Policy accelerates the city’s open data and transparency plans and expands its open data portal.

The city of Boston continues its push towards open data and government transparency with the mayor’s announcement of an Open and Protected Data Policy.

This new policy expands on the 2014 executive order on Open Data and Protected Data Sharing and encourages city agencies to publish datasets on the city’s open data portal. It also calls for more collaboration between the city and research community, encourages businesses to build innovative applications with city data, and provides guidance for responsible data-sharing practices to protect sensitive information and the data’s integrity.

The policy also explains how the city will manage, catalog, analyze, classify, store, share and license the data. According to the mayor’s office, the policy adopts a Creative Commons license for all data released by the city in order to support commercial and non-commercial use. That covers any data produced or received by a department in Boston — whether it is geospatial, tabular, textual, legislative or source code in electronic, digital or optical formats.

New datasets have already been made available to the public, including usage data from the city’s meter parking payment program ParkBoston, firearm recovery information from the Boston Police Department, Wicked Free Wi-Fi usage, residential recycling and waste information and the count of active users at Boston Public Libraries.

Boston also announced its collaboration with the Building and Land Development Specification (BLDS), a recent open data standard format being adopted throughout the country for data relating to development projects.

This latest policy follows a number of open data initiatives in Boston. Since the mayor’s executive order last year, the number of published data sets has increased from 342 to 376, the city held its second HubHacks hackathon in April and was chosen to receive a grant through the Knight News Challenge to create data-centric programs in the Boston Public Library.

Massachusetts is also taking steps towards transparency and public access with new procedures for public record requests to roll out within the next few weeks, according to a statement from Gov. Charlie Baker. The procedure aims to increase responsiveness to records requests, streamline a fee structure for requests, reduce delays and costs to requestors and protect personal information of taxpayers and service users.

The administration plans to designate Records Access Officers to handle requests and establish an internal tracking system that will remain in compliance with the state’s public records policies.

To ease information access, agencies plan to regularly make frequently requested information and records available on their respective websites in electronic and searchable formats, and the administration has waived search and retrieval fees for standard public record requests.

The state of Massachusetts and its capital city are increasing the amount of available data on government agency websites with legislation focused on transparency, openness and security.