San Francisco’s move towards emerging technologies in governance and the embrace of Web 2.0 principles began in earnest in June of 2009. Previously, the city had a limited social network presence (Facebook, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s personal Twitter account as well as assorted departmental Twitter accounts) and a good amount of services available online (such as parking ticket payments). In June, the Department of Technology and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, heavily inspired by President Obama’s January 21st memo on transparency and the City of Vancouver’s May 19th motion on “Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source,” set out to find the best way for San Francisco to enter the age of the open city. The “OpenSF” project has emerged from this process and is a compilation of other cities’ practices and our own perspective. The project has three directives: First, there must be a strong push towards the use of open source software and an effort to have these tools evaluated on equal footing with proprietary offerings during procurement processes. Second, we must have open participation and collaboration; this collaboration must not only between citizens and government, but government must also work to facilitate citizen to citizen discourse and sharing. Third, all data created by the City of San Francisco must be readily and easily available to anyone in the world at no cost.
This third directive, that data should be freely shared and easily accessed, gave birth to the “DataSF” project, which is the focus of this presentation. DataSF will be a centralized data repository that will give the public access to raw government data in machine readable formats. DataSF will be fully operational in six months and for under $1000 in capital costs. While constructing the objectives of this project we quickly realized that to offer a strictly ‘San Francisco’ solution to what is a common calling for all governments would do nothing to further efficiency, efficacy and principles that drew us to the open government movement in the first place. We expanded our goal to include the creation of a completely open source and easily replicated standard API and platform for data distribution, to be shared with municipalities of all sizes. Keeping in mind the directive of collaboration, we immediately solicited for interested developer parties and volunteers in our home-grown classified ad solution—Craigslist. All sorts of members from the local technology community, associated with Philips, PostGreSQL, Yahoo!, NIC and UC Berkeley, have answered our call and joined the effort, bringing both their expertise and assistance. This group, via a highly active and thorough wiki, has strategized, discussed and architected the future of this project; this is a large group, and the City of San Francisco plays an important, but not all-important, role. We have begun conversations with other cities, most notably Portland, Vancouver and New York City, to discuss coordinated efforts, launch schedules and standards. Our strategy is as follows: In the next 4 weeks, we will stand up a www.data.gov style portal, pointing to existing online data sets. Concurrently, we will methodically liberate data from city departments and, in six month’s time, host cleaned versions in a standardized API in an open source, duplicable central repository framework. Once this data is freely available, we would like to host Dev Camps around both citizen’s interests and municipal need. Throughout the process, there will be physical community planning meetings, and online user feedback will be inextricably tied to the data sets, allowing for suggestions, corrections and requests for other types of data. This platform and process will be available for use by any municipality, out of the box and free of charge.
This is where the certainties end. We are in the planning and early implementation stage of our project. Our commitment to collaboration and community meetings promises to inform, evolve, expand, improve and change the particulars of this project. We have a host of engaged citizens and experienced volunteers, a willing government participant and an overarching desire to see the assets of our city available to all.
Kelly Pretzer is the Project Manager for New Media, IT and Clean Technology in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development for the City and County of San Francisco.
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