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Sunlight Foundation Launches New Open Data Policy Hub

The resource serves as a one-stop shop for information about how to establish and write open data policies for local governments.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that works to make government and politics more transparent and accountable, has launched a new open data policy hub aimed at helping local governments craft open data policies.

Becca Warner, a communications officer with Sunlight, said that the new hub essentially compiles a number of disparate resources that the group has had online for years, bringing them into one easy-to-find and -use location for local government. Specifically, the new hub contains five key components and is the culmination of an effort that began back in 2012, when the group published the first iteration of its open policy guidelines.

As the group notes on its website, the guidelines are “a set of best practices to help governments craft policies to ensure public data is released freely, proactively, and accessibly online.” Warner said that the impetus from the hub came from stakeholders in local government — including elected officials, public staffers, civic technologists and open government advocates — frequently reaching out to ask for information the group had available in different parts of its site. This new hub, essentially, just centralizes resources that have long been available.

The hub features four main resources: an open data policy step-by-step, which features all of the most practical logistics tips Sunlight has to offer about actually writing a policy; an open data policy generator, which is a form that’s based on Sunlight’s sample open data policy. Local governments can enter specified information into the form and generate a viable open data policy; a set of open data policy guidelines, which include 31 best practices for creating an open data policy, ranging from which data should be opened to the public to how best to implement a new open data policy; and, finally, an open data policy collection, which includes more than 140 extant open data policies from state and local governments that can be used as examples.

The fact that Sunlight felt it necessary to compile all of these resources into a hub is perhaps telling about the state of open data policies in this country. As recently as a decade ago, the idea of making data open digitally to the public was a nascent one, with even forward-thinking cities such as San Francisco not establishing open data offices until 2009.

In the early years of the municipal and state government open data crusade, most of the work was done as initiatives by individual elected officials. The risk was that once a mayor or governor left office, the open data infrastructure they built during their time would be dumped or badly neglected in favor of new or different policies.

What an open data policy essentially does is codify open data work into government, ensuring that it becomes a more permanent part of operations.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine