What Works Cities: Open Data

By Penny Macias | September 10, 2015

I hope it isn't news to you that the City of Tulsa was one of eight cities recently selected to participate in the "What Works Cities" program, funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies. The program provides assistance for local government organizations in improving their use of data to improve the results they deliver to citizens. The MAAP office worked diligently on our application to the program and we are so proud our city stands with Chattanooga, TN, Jackson, MS, Kansas City, MO, Louisville, KY, Mesa, AZ, New Orleans, LA, and Seattle, WA: The first eight cities to benefit from this initiative. The work they do alongside the City of Tulsa will shape the work for more than 100 other cities going forward. This is an opportunity for Tulsa to be an example for other cities that follow.

There are two phases to our work: (1) Improve Open Data and (2) Create a Performance Management Program. I previously wrote an article on Performance Management/STAT Programs which was posted in July. If you haven't read it I encourage you to do so. As we near that phase I will share more on how it will impact us as an organization. We've already started our work on Open Data.

In 2013 the Mayor and Council adopted a resolution promoting Open Data and the I.T. team established our current Open Data portal. 

Thanks to our I.T. team partnering with various City departments and the volunteers at Code for Tulsa, we're off to a great start with Open Data. However, there is more potential for expanding upon what we already have accomplished.

What are the benefits of open data? There is a great deal of information (data) maintained by the City, and our citizens are entitled to much of that public information. They should have access to government information in the most simple way possible, and the open data movement addresses that need and ability. In an era of smart phones and the ability to do business digitally, citizens expect the same from doing business with their government. So how do we balance those desires and expectations while still maintaining security over information that, if used improperly, could negatively impact the trust that citizens place in their government?

That's exactly the sort of questions we are working on among other issues to ensure Open Data works for Tulsa. With the help from the Sunlight Foundation, Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence and committed Tulsa employees, we will create a framework for identifying data, cataloging data as available for release (versus confidential and not open for release), preparing the data into a publishable format, and putting the data out on our Open Data Portal. Soon, we will be seeking data coordinators from each department - people who know where data is, what it means, and will be able to assist in cataloging and classifying.

If you're asked to participate in this capacity, I hope you'll consider it and find it rewarding. There's no way to know exactly how many benefits will come from Open Data here. For a sample of ways it has been used to improve other cities, check out the following document.