California to Pilot Statewide Open Data Portal

Officials announce plans for a next-gen open data portal for agencies and departments.

by / February 12, 2016 0
At left, Stuart Drown, deputy secretary for innovation and accountability at the California Government Operations Agency, sits beside Socrata CEO Kevin Merritt to detail plans on California's first statewide open data portal. Jason Shueh

PALO ALTO, CALIF. — California is hatching plans to pilot a next-gen open data portal to house all of its public agency data under one roof.

The announcement came Friday, Feb. 12 from Stuart Drown, the deputy secretary for innovation and accountability from the recently formed California Government Operations Agency (CalGovOps). Drown said the initiative began in 2015 when CalGovOps experimented with the idea by launching a portal that included 11 data sets from three different departments. Following the launch was a state sustainability hackathon called GreenGov that aimed to get feedback, Drown said, adding that a prototype for the state’s portal can be found at Greengov.data.ca.gov.

“What we’ve done is put together a pilot that is part of a portfolio of projects that the agency has to improve and modernize business practices statewide,” Drown said. “It’s open data to push, ultimately, a culture of data-based decision-making.”

He elaborated by saying that this follows open data’s typical ambitions to produce more efficiencies in government services and improve quality of life for citizens.

Next steps for the site are to add data sets from four additional departments by the end of February with the goal to replace the state’s aging open data site Data.ca.gov with a beta version by June.

At present, Data.ca.gov mostly redirects visitors to released data sets instead of providing data uniformly across the state’s various departments and offices. The new site may also represent a way to possibly propel California's open data policies and practices forward after a failed attempt to pass the open data bill SB 573 last year. The legislation failed in September and would have created the state's first open data policy along with a new position for a chief open data officer.

Yet, plans notwithstanding, Drown said he and fellow officials are realistic about work ahead and the project’s substantial implications. Agency support is imperative, and collaborations of all sorts — from the private, public to academic sectors — are opportunities they’ll have to pursue. To bolster this, Drown made the announcement as a keynote speaker at the California Health & Human Services annual Open Datafest. The event, the first of two in 2016 organized by the transparency group Stewards of Change, took place at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and typically draws a diverse audience of entrepreneurs, officials and academic researchers.

For academics and civic technologists, Drown said CalGovOps plans to host a series of civic engagement events as early as April. Interested IT vendors might also be interested to know that on Feb. 29, state officials are meeting to discuss procurement options. Further, even with Socrata’s work developing the prototype, Drown said the agency hasn’t made any firm decisions on a vendor.

“Our strategy is to start small, iterate, have low costs and low risks,” Drown said.

In March, hopes are to outline a process for federating new agencies and their data into the portal. For that, Drown said he’ll require more input, but also commitments from interested departments that will be willing to participate in the process that begins in May.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the vendor dicussion for the California open data portal to take place on Feb. 22 when, in fact, it is Feb. 29.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.