Raleigh Taking Steps to Publish Open Source Data

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Later this year, Raleigh residents could have access to city information and data in an accessible and usable format.

As part of its plan to become an “open-source” city, staff presented information Tuesday to the Council’s Technology Committee about plans to publish more data on the city’s website.

The first step will be to create a website where the information can live. The site will link from the city’s website and provide a “one-stop shop for how the public can engage in conversation,” according to Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Minter. He said that step will be complete in April.

City staff will then create an open data and open source policy, Minter said, to guide language in future requests for proposals and how the city will “put data out there so it can be used by constituents.”

Other cities already have such policies, from which staff can draw elements. Minter said City Camp and other similar groups will also provide a forum for policy ideas.

“The vision here is these aren’t going to be policies we as staff do and push out,” he said. “We want to have collaborative partnerships with folks.”

Those groups and other residents can also help prioritize what data is published on the site, he said. The goal is to prioritize data sets by June.

“There’s literally thousands … to choose from,” he said. “[We can ask] department heads. They know what they get public records requests for.”

Finally, the city will publish the data. Minter said the goal is to publish by September. Staff is considering several solutions for hosting the data, which Minter estimates will cost up to $50,000 per year.

Minter said that figure is at the “high end of the spectrum.”

He demonstrated one possible platform, called Socrata, used by the federal government, along with city governments such as Austin and Chicago. The platform not only hosts the information, but lists it in multiple ways. It enables users to see the data, export it in a variety of formats, create charts, graphs and maps and even has an interface for developers who want to create apps.

Members of the technology committee questioned the use of this data by the city’s less technology-savvy residents.

“You don’t have to be a developer to interact with the data,” Minter said, showing some of the charts. “A typical user with some level of computer proficiency should be able to brose the data and look for things of interest to them.”

Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin asked about other, non-technological, ways to make the city open source.

“In talking about open source … one of the things we know is that a number of our citizens do not have access to Internet,” she said. “When I look at this open source thing, it’s only focused online. What about others? How do we engage them in this process as well? I hate to use this term, but it’s almost like ‘analog’ open source.”

City Public Affairs Director Jayne Kirkpatrick said that outreach continues.

“Everything that we do today to reach any of the residents, I like to make sure we use every resource we have,” she said, naming off such “old fashioned” methods as Citizens Advisory Councils. “This should not be any different in anything else we do.”

Councilor Bonner Gaylord said it’s about adding access.

“This is not about removing access the analog; way. It’s about adding access,” he said. “It’s just adding to what’s already there.”

The steps are already in motion, and required no approval from the committee. The final publishing step will require approval for the software. Councilors agreed to recommend the cost be considered as part of the next fiscal year’s budget. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

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