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Oakland City Council Votes for Open Data Policy

On Monday April 30, 2012, Oakland City Council reviewed an open data policy initiative put forth by city councilmember of the 4th District and Oakland native, Libby Schaff. The open data policy agenda report composed by policy analyst Bruce Stoffmacher, proposes to make raw data sets accessible to the public on a new city data portal. The policy’s goal is to encourage the local Oakland community of civic minded software developers to innovate web and mobile applications to improve the quality of life for Oakland residents. Also, to provide data analysts the ability to interpret and examine data to compose reports and visualizations enabling city government to make more intelligent data-driven decisions.

Currently, software developers and data analysts who are interested in applying their skills as a public service to the City of Oakland often face roadblocks because civic data is not easily available or is primarily accessible in non-consumable formats, such as PDF documents and map images.  If implemented, the proposed open data policy will allow the city of Oakland to leverage its extraordinary talented and vast pool of software developers, designers, and data analysts residing in Oakland at little to no cost of the city to produce resources of imaginable capabilities.

Like many other American cities, Oakland is facing issues of tight budgets and are lacking staff resources. As pointed out in Stoffmacher’s report, a great example is Washington, D.C.’s Applications for Democracy contest in 2008 where local software developers built applications valued at nearly $2.3 million and cost the city only $50K in prize money.

During Monday’s hearing, Steve Spiker, an Oakland resident and the Director of Research and Technology of Urban Strategies, urged the city to implement an open data policy. The policy would would create opportunities for civic innovation and eventually bring much needed funds to the city of Oakland boosting commerce and grant monies received for civic use.  Following Spiker’s statements, I approached the stand as an Oakland resident and representative of CfA and addressed the council stating numerous CfA goals which include promoting open data and  making local governments more transparent, better connected to its citizens, and more efficient.  I also shared a few examples of various open-source civic software applications including CfA’s Adopt-A-Hydrant and the positive impact these contributions have made in cities around the country.

Councilmember Schaaf followed by recognizing Jennifer Pahlka as the founder of Code For America and proudly claimed her as a Oakland resident and a leader in civic innovation.  The city council proceeded to vote on the data policy and unanimously decided in its favor.  The city is allowing 90 days to devise a plan implement the open data policy ad and all costs and labor involved. Oakland open data is on the way!