Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the Week of August 31, 2015

This week we see more governments bursting onto the open data scene, with initiatives from Jackson, Mississippi, to California. Plus: Was Katrina the catalyst for open government?

Bloomberg’s “What Works Cities” in Action

“In a huge step forward” for the city of Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Tony Yarber signed an executive order creating an open data policy. The move, LaVita Tuff reports for the Sunlight Foundation, “is a crucial part of Jackson’s commitment to the What Works Cities initiative,” a three-year Bloomberg Philanthropies program which helps local governments nationwide use open data to improve citizens’ lives. Yarber’s executive order, says Tuff, promotes “a culture of transparency and accountability amongst city leaders and agencies,” and will be followed up with “a public engagement process that prioritizes datasets based on community input.”

OpenJustice Sets a New Standard

California State Attorney General Kamala Harris unveiled her agency’s first-of-its-kind open data initiative, OpenJustice. The program opens key criminal justice datasets via a user-friendly dashboard, and makes the raw data available for free download through an open data portal. Harris and her team hope the initiative “will enable researchers, civic coders, and journalists to help tackle seemingly intractable problems in the criminal justice system,” according to a California Department of Justice press release. In the coming months, the dashboard “will expand to spotlight more metrics from across the justice system,” and many more datasets “will be released to foster accountability and trust.”

Five Open Data Must-Dos for Delaware

When Delaware Department of State Deputy Principal Assistant Dana Rohrbough Garber wrote an open letter “urging the state’s technology communities to begin building a civic tech community,” says Tony Abraham in, she recognized the state’s need for engagement from innovators. “Delaware is currently publishing thousands of reports,” and “getting better at releasing data in raw formats,” Garber explained, but said “fostering a civic tech community is not just about datasets.” To spark action, Abraham got Delaware data trailblazers David Curtis and Patrick Callahan to create a wishlist of their five open data civic tech priorities, including traffic crash and 311 data.

Katrina’s Aftermath: The Birth of Open Data

When category 5 superstorm Katrina hit New Orleans, writes Grayson Ullman for FedScoop, very little data was on hand at the time to help direct first responders and initial rebuilding efforts. “Without information on layouts, population density, blueprints and other municipal datasets,” Ullman explains, workers were effectively paralyzed. They began to bootleg datasets and trade them, often using pen and paper. “The crucial role that data played in facilitating the recovery effort,” inspired the federal government “to embrace open data initiatives.” Ullman quotes Presidential Innovation Fellow Denice Ross as saying Katrina helped the nation break free “from the gravitational pull of old, closed ways of running government and onto an unstoppable path of transparency, civic participation and collaboration.”