City increases transparency with open data portal

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Last month, the City of Minneapolis launched its open data portal, a website that provides online access to municipally collected information.

People who visit the site (opendate.minneapolismn.gov) can see fire and police incidents, 311 calls and crime statistics. Data also show property rental locations and open liquor licenses. Air quality, digital inclusion and neighborhood revitalization are additional areas covered on the site.

Rollout of the website is the result of an August vote in which the City Council made Minneapolis the 16th city in the U.S. to pass an open data policy. The intention: Make city information easily accessible for residents to increase transparency and improve quality of life.

Before the portal, residents and other people who wanted city data were required to complete a Freedom of Information Act request. Now with constant access to data, people can learn more about where they live by just going online.

While an innovation for Minneapolis, the open data portal provides information on only a fraction of the City’s functions and services. The data sets in the initial release were chosen based on accessibility and popular information requests.

The City plans to continually add data sets over the coming months and years. People who are interested in being updated when new information is available can subscribe to a RSS feed.

The capacity of city departments to prepare information for the portal will figure heavily in timelines. Data must be formatted properly for the site, a process that can be time consuming and stretch department resources.

Once information is available at the website, tech-savvy individuals can use data to produce consumer-focused resources without worrying about copyright or other restrictions. For instance, City data provided in chart form might be rendered in an interactive map meant to help residents navigate the city.
The open data movement has grown with technological innovation. The Internet makes it easier than ever to access information, and open data advocates believe data that is public should be available to everyone.

Data.gov, which went online in 2009, was among the first government websites dedicated to providing public information. Today, site visitors can get federal- and local level data on agriculture, business, education, health, energy, climate, manufacturing, finance, public safety and other areas.

Minneapolis has now joined the 38 states and 46 cities and counties that have open data portals of their own. City officials acknowledge that the current site is only a first step and abundant opportunity exists to make the portal more useful to residents.

Open Twin Cities is among the organizations that have helped to drive the conversation around making City information public. The nonprofit advocacy group’s mission is to foster “inclusive community and civic collaboration” and to champion “open government and civic technology for civic impact.”

Among the events Open Twin Cities hosts are “hackdays,” in which participants identify technology solutions to community challenges. People interested in how open data initiatives are of benefit to the public good can visit opentwincities.org.