Boston Releases Open and Protected Data Policy

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Boston City Hall

Open data starts with governance. That’s why Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced a new open data policy on July 30.

The policy, called the Open and Protected Data Policy, encourages city agencies to publish data sets on the city’s open data portal. The policy, which was created by the Department of Innovation and Technology and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, provides city departments with a framework intended to make opening data a more comfortable and controlled process.

The new policy defines which data sets should be protected, establishes ways to safeguard those data sets, formally states that data is a valuable resource for the city that should be understandable and accessible, and ensures that the city’s open data values align with those of the community. City departments weren’t against opening their data before, but they needed guidance, explained Boston CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge.

“Data is exciting for people, but it’s also scary,” said Franklin-Hodge. “They worry about liability, they worry about exposing personal information, they worry about the technical matters surrounding it. So this is a way for my department to work with departments of the city, to help them open up data and to give them a framework to work in which they feel comfortable, and for the organizations that are already publishing data, it does provide that checklist and that structure to say, ‘OK, are we doing all the things we need to do both to open and to protect?’”

The policy is structured after an executive order made by the mayor in April 2014 that called for such a policy. The process of developing the policy, Franklin-Hodge explained, started with uploading a modified version of the executive order into Google Docs and asking government departments to add comments and suggestions on what the policy should include. They also met with other departments, he said, to ensure that the policy they developed addressed the concerns and challenges that were commonly faced when opening data. The city also looked at the best and worst aspects of open data policies adopted by other cities, including those of New York and San Francisco.

“The aim of this policy was to address all of those barriers and to make it easy for the organizations to get out there and publish,” Franklin-Hodge said.

Several new data sets were published alongside the policy announcement, including ParkBoston parking meter usage, Boston Police Department firearm recovery data, Wicked Free Wi-Fi usage, residential recycling and waste data, and Boston Public Libraries user count.

The city also announced that it is adopting the Building and Land Development Specification, an open data standard for building and construction permits.

Other open data efforts in Boston include the development of data-centric applications for the Boston Public Library funded through a Knight News Challenge grant, and a HubHacks hackathon held in April that asked the public to use city data to generate data visualizations that told stories about the city.

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