Memphis CIO Mike Rodriguez began working for the city about two months ago, and on one of his first days walking out of city hall he was stopped by a citizen who asked when the municipal government was going to establish an open data governance body.
With this kind of citizen interest in mind, Rodriguez told Government Technology that enhancing the city’s open data efforts has become a priority in the early days of his tenure, building on work that was underway when he arrived. Indeed, establishing a comprehensive open data portal has been a priority in Memphis for some time now, as Mayor Jim Strickland reminded the city in a recent Facebook post.
“When I ran for mayor, I promised to measure results, hold city government accountable, and share those results with you,” Strickland wrote in the post. “We’ve been doing that by sharing our monthly data reviews. But with a new open data policy, we can do more.”
Currently the city’s monthly data reports are mostly related to things like public works, budget info, municipal responses to service requests, 911 and 311 response times, and committee meetings, said Craig Hodge, a performance strategist with the city. Data efforts moving forward will likely expand the amount and type of information, as well as provide them in a more accessible format.
Memphis is collaborating on these efforts with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for more transparent government, as part of its involvement in What Works Cities, an initiative designed to assist mid-sized American cities in developing data projects that improve life for residents. They are also looking at peer cities to borrow information and examples.
Feedback from the public is also a key part of the development process, said Rodriguez. Through the end of October, Memphis residents can view a draft of the city’s forthcoming open data policy online and offer comments or requested changes that public servants will take into account when drafting a final version.
In service of this open data work, Rodriguez said Memphis is also seeking to hire a data officer in the near future, and the city will soon launch a new website that takes into account how to best present data to the public. Open data policies and portals have been made priorities at all levels of government in recent years, with many cities involving the public the same way Memphis is doing.
The ultimate timeline for the finalization of the open data policy remains a bit foggy, though officials note that they plan to be deliberate and thorough in this work.
“Our goal is impact,” said Rodriguez. “Our goal is doing it the right way, and it may take us longer than we wish.”
Rodriguez comes to municipal government after a nearly 30-year career in the private sector, where he served as the director of information security for FedEx. In his position with the city, he will be responsible for its internal technology infrastructure, which includes data systems, networks, websites and more.