Cities are at the forefront of innovative new solutions to long-time issues like access to housing, transportation, or education. Innovation is a group effort, though, and requires collaboration. To solve problems in cities, governments need to act not only as service providers for essential city functions, but also as conveners who facilitate new partnerships and relationships among their civic tech and open data ecosystems. Cities need support from community organizations, residents, researchers, and advocates to use data and technology to create better outcomes for their constituents.
Data collected by cities and other governments is a big part of this new frontier of innovation. Cities collect data on everything from budgets to potholes to traffic collisions, and when cities make that information available online, it becomes open data. Open data gives residents a chance to participate in problem-solving around issues that can shape the course of city innovation.
The Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities team works to make open data as easily available as possible, to encourage more meaningful civic participation and transparency in government. We investigate how open data can inspire community action around issues that matter to residents — whether they’re worried about monitoring local government corruption or just want to learn more about where they should send their kids to school. Not only are cities’ transparency efforts, like open data, important for building public trust and good government; they can also encourage more sharing, openness, and creativity between governments and members of their communities. Cities that share open data intentionally and proactively with their residents become more communicative, more accessible, and more engaged in their communities.
Transparency as a tool for collaboration
In the early days of open data, cities and transparency advocates hoped that simply publishing open data would break down barriers and inspire residents to use data in ways that would revolutionize urban life. Releasing data would be both an exercise in building public trust and in inspiring local community action. But, as a partner of the What Works Cities initiative working with over 60 cities around the country, we’ve seen that just publishing data hasn’t been enough to fulfill that promise, and inspire the kinds of changes that would drive real innovation.