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San Francisco to Hire a Chief Data Officer Under Revised Open Data Legislation

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, October 15 2012

San Francisco plans to hire an open data officer under new legislation announced Monday by San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee.

At an event Monday morning at the Hatchery, a co-working space in San Francisco, Lee said that the changes in the city's open data legislation followed best practices established in New York City and Chicago, and proposed by the Sunlight Foundation*. While Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath helps to promote open data and other technology projects externally, he said, "we need somebody on the inside to get [city departments] on a higher level of sharing their data."

The legislation will be introduced at the Board of Supervisors' Oct. 16 meeting, according to a press release from the mayor's office.

The idea is to create "one person who is responsible and accountable for moving forward on open data," said David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, at the Monday event. In addition, the legislation will mandate that every city department will have a representative responsible for open data and establish common open data standards.

Lee also announced that he wanted to encourage private companies that are collecting city-related data to share it with the government and the public. As was first reported by TechCrunch, crowd and traffic data from Motionloft is being added to the DataSF website. Motionloft has established pedestrian and traffic sensors in about 18 different San Francisco neighborhoods to track activity patterns. At today's event, Lee said that such data could help the city, when, for example, it needs to address vacancy issues with small businesses or plan how to invest in a neighborhood strategy to attract customers.

The new open data legislation also mandates that when data is collected by a third party on behalf of the city, "it belongs to our city, not the vendor," Nath emphasized.

That policy is established through the two proposed additions to San Francisco's existing open data legislation.

The new addition mandate the establishment of "(3) Rules for including open data requirements in applicable City contracts and standard contract provisions that promote the City’s open data policies, including, where appropriate, provisions to ensure that the City retains ownership of City data and the ability to post the data on data.sfgov.org or make it available through other means; and,(4) Requirements that a third party providing City data (or applications based on City data) to the public explicitly identify the source and version of the public data set, and include a description of any modifications made to the public data set."

As part of the event, the city also celebrated the launch of an iPhone application developed for the Recreation and Parks Department by mobile commerce company Appallicious. The application uses the city's open data to map various park amenities including picnic areas, landmark areas and playgrounds, and also includes news, and the ability to reserve a picnic bench or donate to the department. Appalicious, which is also officially launching today, sees its Skipitt mobile platform as an easy easy way for governments to make different kinds of mobile applications.

100Plus plans to use open data to launch an application that highlights opportunities, activities and locations that encourage healthy living in San Francisco, and complement those recommendations with data collected from people who have already completed those activities and federal government data. In addition, GIS company ESRI has collaborated with the city to create a map charting the city's growth over the past 12 years using the city's data.

As Chiu encouraged the further development of applications, he highlighted three areas of opportunities he saw specifically: text message alerts to inform residents ahead of street cleanings or ether events that require car removal, an open budget application to track where government dollars are going and the possibility of more online transactions connected with Recreation and Parks' services.

The bill amends existing legislation in San Francisco about open data. A bill signed into law by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2010 earned applause for its economic development potential but was panned by transparency advocates who said it did not do enough to hold agencies accountable for meeting the guidelines it set out.

* Personal Democracy Media's Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisers to the Sunlight Foundation.