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What's New in Civic Tech: Sunlight Foundation Launches Open Data Policy Wizard

Wheaton, Ill. becomes first city in state with an open data portal for its park district; Seattle Public Library releases data about checkouts.

by / February 23, 2017
Volunteers hold signs guiding people to the location of lunchtime food trucks at the Sunlight Foundation's TransparencyCamp 2013, a camp focusing on open data and transparent government efforts. Flickr/The Sunlight Foundation

Sunlight Foundation Offers Open Data Policy Wizard

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for more transparent government, has created the Open Data Policy Wizard, which is designed to make it easier for city governments and other agencies to create open data policies. 

The Wizard asks basic questions about a user’s city or other area, and then it emails a version of a sample policy with that information worked into it. Users also receive a Google Doc version of that policy, which they can edit it as they see fit.

In a release, the Sunlight Foundation called the policy that the wizard creates “a starting point, not an ending point,” stressing that they advise all users to do work past that. They suggested fully understanding how the wizard incorporates the group’s overall policy guidelines, exploring other governments’ policies and working with residents and other stakeholders to ensure policies work for them.

This new program marks an addition to a sample firestarter policy the Sunlight Foundation and What Works Cities created in 2015, and its launch comes amid widespread concern that the White House is moving away from open data, following the recent removal of such information from its website. 

“We see this Wizard as a step toward our broader vision of democratic policymaking whereby citizens have tools that allow them to engage in the process more easily, and citizens, stakeholders and government officials have tools that allow for collaborative drafting of public policy,” the Sunlight Foundation wrote in its release.


Seattle Public Library Releases Large Data Set

The Seattle Public Library has released a large data set that includes specific checkout info — more than 27 million lines of it — for its materials by month, spanning from 2005 to present. 

The release, according to the library’s blog, is part of Seattle’s Open Data Initiative, and the idea is to help library patrons form questions as they better explore how the services provided are being used. The open data portal with this information is called Checkouts by Title

This is part of a citywide commitment to open data that Mayor Ed Murray made official with an executive order in February 2016, which called for all of Seattle’s data to be “open by preference.” This means that once privacy and security have been accounted for, the city’s preference will be to publish all of its data. 

“The city doesn’t have the capacity to solve all problems,” Murray said at the time of the signing. “But by making our data available to the community, the community can be our partner in understanding what the data says and how we develop the best solutions going forward on any number of issues, whether it’s homelessness, whether its inequity, whether it’s how we can improve our already-great parks system. That’s why we’re doing this. We look forward to an opportunity not just for transparency, but for creativity and partnership.” 


Wheaton, Ill. Park District Launches Open Data Portal

The Wheaton, Ill. Park District has launched an open data portal designed to give the public insight into its finances. 

The data sets available on this portal, which launched Wednesday, Feb. 22, include every financial transaction the Wheaton Park District has made since 2011. In a statement, the park district’s finance director, Rita Trainor, said this interface is ideal because it is easy for residents to use, citing the flexibility of a design that was made for everyone, not just CPAs. 

“We’re hoping [residents] will use it to answer those questions they have about the district’s finances but never wanted to ask out loud or, perhaps, didn’t even know whom to ask,” Trainor said. “We’d also like to hear from users about questions they would like to see answered.”

Other information available includes the district’s annual report, specific line items and vendor payments. The OpenGov site also includes an interactive frequently asked question feature, dubbed Views, which currently shows that Wheaton residents are asking about the district’s revenues, as well as how much of its expenses are paid for by property taxes.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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