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Civic Tech Pioneers Hit the Road to Spread the Open Data Gospel

The open government community has organized a California "roadshow" to collaborate with city officials and citizens on creating open data policies across the state.

by Yo Yoshida, FOUNDER & CEO, APPALLICIOUS / June 25, 2014
On June 4, California voters passed Proposition 42, a statewide ballot initiative, which will help create a more open and transparent government and could radically transform our democracy. The initiative requires that all local government agencies comply with California’s Public Records Act and open meeting law, by making government data open to the public. Prop 42 could also serve as a precursor for comprehensive open data policies in cities and towns throughout the state. By making open data the default policy in California we can nurture a new civic tech industry, like our forward-thinking environmental policies did a decade ago.
Now, a group of civic leaders are taking the open data show on the road to jump-start this effort and make this vision a reality.
By making government data open to the public on the state and local level, we will save government millions, increase efficiency, create jobs and restore trust in our democracy. We’ve seen it work on the federal, state and local level. This isn’t wishful thinking. And we have many open data policies that can be the building blocks for statewide policy. Open data provides the fuel for emerging civic tech pioneers that use this information to build civic-minded products and services that empower citizens. This new industry is just starting to boom and has been valued in the billions of dollars. Just last month, civic startup, raised $15 million and Accela, another leader in the field that is helping improve citizen engagement, recently received $40 million in funding.

Open Data Geeks Take Their Message to the Road

Earlier this year, an informal Open Government working group for California was launched with the goal of promoting open data efforts across the state. Appallicious was honored to host the kick off meeting in our San Francisco offices. The diverse group is made up of leaders from civic startups like, OpenCounter, PopVox, Accela, and open data experts from organizations like Code For America, California Forward and CALinnovates, and government officials including Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and Jay Nath, chief innovation officer for the city and county of San Francisco.
In the working group’s last meeting, Rajan stressed the importance of re-envisioning what economic development means at both the state and local level in the 21st century. Rajan said, that “the more that we create open data, and the more we create momentum around this space, it can contribute enormous amounts of jobs and economic benefit to California.”
This group is looking to add more open government leaders from throughout the state to share experiences and policies on how to increase innovation and civic engagement within state and local governments. I am personally excited to start collaborating with more local governments on this issue, and learning from leaders on the ground how best to implement open government strategies in their local cities and towns. But, also sharing best practices from throughout the country.

Open Data: Road Tested, Proven to Work

We have seen firsthand what open data efforts can do to increase transparency and accountability in some of the most unlikely of places. Three years ago the city of Bell, Calif., was rocked by a huge scandal when it was revealed that local city officials, City Council members and a former city administrator had misappropriated millions of dollars in public funds in order to increase their salaries and collect on exorbitant benefits. Five council members were convicted of fraud, and the former city administrator will most likely serve more than a decade in jail.
But since then, Bell has become one of the more transparent cities in the state, thanks to embracing the open data movement. One of the civic startups that will be participating in the upcoming roadshow is OpenGov, which has partnered with Bell to bring transparency and accountability to its local government. With OpenGov’s innovative financial technology, Bell citizens and city leaders can see exactly where public funds are being spent, right from their computer. There’s no need for FOIA or Sunshine requests. Everything is available online at anytime, for anybody to see. But if the city had not made its financial data public, none of this would have been possible.
There are also plenty of examples of how increased open data policies can spur a new wave of economic development in California, which will create more jobs and revenue right here. Another company that will be joining the roadshow is OpenCounter. They help entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running by helping to navigate cities’ complex permitting processes. Right now, OpenCounter can only be used in nine California cities, and while this is a good start, companies should be available to use their services anywhere in the state.

An Open Government for All Californians

In the coming months the open data roadshow will be making its way up and down the state. This will be a chance to learn from open government leaders in communities throughout California and educate citizens and government officials on why robust open data policies make sense in both state and local government. The first stops are in San Jose and Riverside, with many more to come.
The goal of this open government effort isn’t just to get a handful of cities to enact open data policies; it’s something the entire state needs to be onboard with.
If your city or town is interested in getting involved and potentially hosting a roadshow event, contact California Forward’s Robb Korinke, and let them know your hometown wants to start creating a more open government.
We also need to send a message to Sacramento that Californians want a more transparent and open government that helps fosters economic development. Let your elected leaders know that it’s time to enact substantial open data legislation.
Californians made it clear that increased accountability and transparency in their government is a top priority with their vote for Prop 42. But, now it is up to lawmakers both in Sacramento, and in local towns and cities across the state to develop comprehensive open data legislation. Concerned citizens are helping show them the way.
Yo Yoshida is the founder and CEO of Appallicious, a San Francisco-based open data and government 2.0 company.
This story was originally published by Techwire.

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