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Open Data, Hawaii-Style

Multi-faceted support for open data results in apps for tsunami siren upkeep and Honolulu information.

How does the Aloha state do open data? With a lot of support and collaboration.

The considerable effort afoot in Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu leverages public data sets to create tools that serve the public good. Initial efforts are focused on transit data that is often readily available on public websites, a move replicated across many active open data communities across the country.

Hawaii Open Data Executive Director Burt Lum explained to Government Technology that a CityCamp event last December, followed by a hackathon in January, provided some early momentum for the open data movement in Honolulu. “DaBus” is an app that offers a number of features to help the transit-riding public navigate the island of Oahu on the bus.

Since that time, city leaders have been actively encouraging departments to make additional data sets available on the Socrata platform. The open data movement in Honolulu enjoys active support from the City of Honolulu and community groups, like Hawaii Open Data.

Lum describes his organization as “an independent voice working to bring together the community and government to interact in this collaborative (open data) environment.” Hawaii Open Data, in the process of becoming a 501c3 charitable organization, is receiving grant funding from the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Island Innovation Fund.

Open Data and Elections

Newly released data is being put to good use in Honolulu. Developers used voter turnout data from Honolulu’s recent primary election to create a voter turnout map by precinct. Lum explained that this data will help effectively focus future get-out-the-vote efforts.

As further evidence of the growing open data movement in Honolulu, all three candidates in the city’s recent mayoral primary signed an open data pledge, publicly demonstrating “a commitment to improve government by making government more transparent, participatory, collaborative, accountable, efficient, and effective.”

Enter Code for America

Selected as a Code for America city for 2012, Honolulu is also benefitting from dedicated expertise provided by the nonprofit group that pairs volunteer developers with local governments embracing innovative IT projects.

A citizen-populated frequently asked questions app, Honolulu Answers, is providing a local’s perspective on the things visitors and residents most want to know. provides some distinctly Hawaiian flavor as well. The app, capitalizing on open source code originally used in Boston’s Adopt a Hydrant allows Hawaiians to adopt their local tsunami siren. Residents are charged with monitoring the siren they adopt, alerting officials to potential maintenance needs in order to ensure the sirens are functional and therefore effective in the event of an impending weather emergency, like a tsunami.

Other apps include a public art map, a guide to the locations of electric vehicle charging stations, and a commute planner that connects with area traffic cams, arming residents with real-time road conditions to help make optimum route decisions.

More Results Expected from State Portal

Lum and others involved in Honolulu’s open data movement are hopeful that an open data portal from the state of Hawaii will add another layer of rich data sets to the open data discussion. An announcement on the launch of the state’s open data portal, which will feature statewide information in five key sectors — tourism, agriculture, transportation, energy and health — is expected later this month.

"I subscribe to the idea that if you make the data available, the community will come up with creative ways of presenting it and utilizing it and creating new mashups as a result of that data,” Lum said.

As for Honolulu, Lum expects another codeathon in the city in the coming months.

Honolulu, Hawaii, was recognized by the Center for Digital Government, the research arm of Government Technology’s parent company, as the first-place winner in its population category in the 2011 Digital Cities Survey. The city was recognized in part for its free municipal Wi-Fi Internet service, which was installed at no expense to taxpayers.


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.