Open Letter on Open Data in Charlottesville

April 12, 2016

Dear Council Members,

Thank you for your service to the City of Charlottesville.  In a letter to the editor the majority of the Council described a recent change in meeting procedures as “intended to create more transparency, broader engagement and a more efficient Council; less talk and more action means more tangible results that affect people’s lives.”  We are optimistic that your sentiment goes beyond changes in meeting procedures.

In that spirit, we’re writing to encourage consideration of an open data resolution for the city of Charlottesville.  This resolution would follow in the footsteps of many forward-thinking cities and contribute to the sense of transparency and engagement you’ve endorsed.  This letter comes on the heels of the Obama Administration’s launch of the “Opportunity Project,” which seeks to use open data to promote “economic mobility for all”.  Along with Obama’s initiatives, here in Virginia, Governor McAuliffe has been pushing open data since his 2014 launch of an open data portal.  As he envisioned during the launch of that portal, “With this new initiative, Virginians will have a one-stop shop to get access to data from a variety of sources. That’s empowering data that can be used by citizens to make more informed decisions, by innovators to build cutting-edge applications, and by community stakeholders to plan smarter projects.”

There are many proven benefits of open data.  Economically, open data leads to creation of new businesses and jobs, innovation within existing industries, and construction of smart development.  Culturally, open data fosters innovative ecosystems within cities, highlights the need to address a variety of social problems, and fosters a sense of community.  Politically, open data contributes to citizen engagement, government-citizen trust, and systemic efficiencies.

We have created a sample resolution that we hope will galvanize a discussion and lead to small steps that take advantage of this big opportunity.  It’s important that such a resolution be crafted to suit our unique city.  However, we’re proposing a sample resolution based on the recommendations of the Sunlight Foundation and the language used in official resolutions from other cities (Portland, Austin, and San Diego, among others) as a starting point.

We appreciate your time.

Best Regards,

Lucas R. Ames
Smart Cville
Belmont, Charlottesville, VA

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SAMPLE RESOLUTION

SUPPORTING AN OPEN DATA POLICY FOR THE CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE

WHEREAS, the City of Charlottesville is committed to open, transparent, and accessible government; and

WHEREAS, the City of Charlottesville is a burgeoning area of innovation with an educated, active, and innovative citizenry; and

WHEREAS, open data is defined as public data produced or commissioned by government that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone; and

WHEREAS, open data, proactively disclosing City public data, is the foundation of open government, is consistent with citizens’ right to public information, and promotes engagement with the potential benefit of civic development of applications to improve city service delivery through expanded and innovative applications; and

WHEREAS, Public Data means any data generated or received by the City of Charlottesville, as defined by the Virginia Public Records Act (VPRA) at Va. Code § 42.1-76 et seq., which is fully disclosable under VPRA or which the City has no discretion to refrain from disclosing under VPRA; and

WHEREAS, the use of open data exchange standards improves transparency, access to public information, and improved coordination and efficiencies among organizations across the public, nonprofit and private sectors, including within internal city departments; and

WHEREAS, open data can be used for various purposes, including enabling participatory governance, catalyzing economic development, fostering efficiencies and measuring the effectiveness of public services, and liberating city staff to focus on core responsibilities; and

WHEREAS, publishing structured standardized data in machine readable formats creates new opportunities for diverse information to be combined and visualized in new and unexpected ways; and

WHEREAS, open and accessible public data must be balanced with privacy protections for the City and its citizens to reduce legal risk to the City of Charlottesville; and

WHEREAS, making data open and accessible must be done in a manner that satisfies the legal requirements contained in any software license or other legally binding agreement to which the city is a party.

NOW THEREFORE,

BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of the City of Charlottesville supports the creation of an open data policy.

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