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3 Ways Cities Can Grow Open Data Projects

At an open data roadshow in San Jose, Calif., one official emphasized three things cities can do to increase open data initiatives at the local level.

by / July 11, 2014
From left to right, moderator Robb Korinke of California Forward, Code for San Jose's Kalen Gallagher, San Jose City Manager Ed Shikada, Accela's Mark Headd, and Julia Burkhead of the Community Technology Alliance participate in the Open Data Roadshow's panel discussion on open data collaboration. Jason Shueh

How can a city grow open data projects?

  1. Prove they cut work instead of create it;
  2. Link them to tangible city services; and
  3. Follow city procurement plans so pitches don’t duplicate efforts.

Ed Shikada, the city manager for San Jose, Calif., emphasized these three tenets at the Open Data Roadshow Thursday. The event -- organized by the city, Code for San Jose and the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership -- brought open data stakeholders in from across the state to discuss how San Jose might cultivate and leverage open data projects in the community.

The Roadshow was part of a series of events to generate momentum to open government data for citizens and businesses online.

As a speaker with an insider’s perspective in San Jose’s administrative culture, Shikada was well worded in his comments as not to discourage open data -- or give impressions that the city fundamentally endorsed it in all applications. As with most major initiatives, Shikada said, dynamics were complicated.

“As a city, we're in the business of delivering services to the community, so it's very important for us to stay doggedly focused on the services that are a priority for our community,” he said.

Shikada explained that this doggedness usually places city staff and departments in one of three roles when it comes to open data. The first being as buyer in the typical procurement process where the city is a purchaser of open data technology. The second is when the city acts as a research and development collaborator with private companies. And the third role is where the city acts as a matchmaker between philanthropic organizations and private developers to create new services for citizens.

"Staff leadership needs to see the value in dedicating time and resources away from what they're already doing to spend time opening up data…It really is important to express that common interest." he said and urged attending developers and open data advocates to understand this as they pitched city departments -- often resource strapped under workloads.

Shikada’s comments were part of a panel discussion on collaboration where he was joined by Kalen Gallagher, a co-leader of the new Code for America's brigade, Code for San Jose; Julia Burkhead, deputy director for the Community Technology Alliance; and Accela’s CivicTech Evangelist Mark Headd -- formerly the chief data officer for the city of Philadelphia.

In his new role promoting open data -- and based on his time in Philly -- Headd was asked where he thought San Jose and other cities benefitted most with open data. His answer touched on citizen transparency but ultimately underscored efficiency.

"It can help government work better,” Headd said simply, explaining that internal use of open data often has big returns.

In Philly’s case, he recalled how open data had allowed for the city to ensure its property tax revenue collection had been done accurately. A crucial need at the time, as budget constraints were closing schools and the city was responsible for collecting both its own property tax revenues and the local school district’s.

"When you're able to use data in the public realm it's much more valuable internally,” he said.

As one of Code for America’s newest leaders, Gallagher said another opportunity in open data is found within citizens. During the launch of Code for San Jose, a group dedicated to using open data to help the community, Gallagher said after he’d launched a Facebook campaign seeking interested participants he was overwhelmed by the massive amounts of citizens who responded to offer services as coders or through other skill sets.

"What we found is that there is a lot of interest from a lot of people who aren't necessarily in government but who are interested in making San Jose better,” Gallagher said.

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Jason Shueh former staff writer

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

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