Open government data — from the federal government’s data.gov to Sacramento’s open data portal — is being recognized as vital fuel for the Information Age economic engine. And despite some less than pleasing social, political and legal side effects, open data is in keeping with a modern democracy. Emily Shaw, the national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, said that open data is the manifestation of open government.
California — which has had a troubled history with government transparency — is about to make some major decisions on the subject.
Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said, at a recent meeting of the Open Government Working Group, “I think the more that we create open data and the more we create momentum around this space, it can create an enormous amount of jobs and economic benefit in California … We have to envision what economic development means at the state and local level. How do we grow our economies, how do we grow our communities? We need better richer data systems.”
Rajan was point person from the Governor’s Office as the Open Government Working Group kicked things off in January of this year with a meeting at Appallicious, “a civic startup that utilizes data to help government better serve its citizens.” The purpose of the Open Government Working Group, according to Techwire contributors Mike Montgomery and Brian Purchia, “is to help establish open gov/open data policies on the state and local level, and … to bring some of the best and brightest from the open gov world/civic startup space together to share policies and success stories with other cities and town statewide via Go-Biz.”
Another sign of an open data “perfect storm” is that San Francisco has long had an exemplary open data portal, and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom — now Lieutenant Governor Newsom — has challenged the administration to get moving on transparency and open data initiatives. This week, in fact, he took the gloves off, saying, in a Pando article, that it’s not that hard. All it takes is an executive order followed up by legislation. “The governor should do the same thing,” said Newsom in the article. “We should put the resources back into that data portal we have and get serious here. A growing number of cities and states across the country are doing similar things and California is behind the curve.” The data portal he refers to may be the “Reporting Transparency in Government” website created via an executive order by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. When legislation attempted to make it into law, Gov. Brown vetoed it. The site now is boarded up with a sign saying the data has moved elsewhere.
And there’s more. In addition to new legislation that would create a contracts database (AB 1578) there’s Prop 42 which will come before voters next month. Prop 42 would mandate local governments to provide free access to public data, and would make those local governments pay the costs without state reimbursement. Needless to say, many local governments see this as another heavy-handed unfunded mandate, but others think it could signal a new era in California government transparency and build a foundation for open data and its economic benefits.
In any case, Montgomery and Purchia said they felt California should be leading the charge to open data rather than falling behind. “We’ve seen how forward-thinking environmental policies have created a clean tech boom in California,” said the two, “and we can do the same with civic tech.”