Continuing San Francisco’s national leadership on open data

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)
Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will take its final vote to approve my update to our city’s groundbreaking open data law. My open data ordinance, in its simplest terms, standardizes and sets timelines for the release of appropriate city government data.

I know that my update to our open data ordinance will help lead to further innovation and technologically driven services, solutions, platforms, and applications for civic issues and problems. Technology is not going to be the cure-all for every problem government faces, but it can certainly help to improve our resident’s quality of life in certain instances, while continuing to boost our local economy at the same time.

All across the nation, cities, counties, states, and even the federal government have and continue to take steps towards making appropriate government data available because open data has proven to spark innovation, drive greater efficiency and cost-savings in government, and fuel further economic development – as evidenced in the recent and steady growth in the civic startup sector.

My law modifies and standardizes the city’s open data standards, ensuring for data released in machine-readable formats; sets timelines for city departments for the release of appropriate city data sets; creates a mechanism for city staff and agencies to interact with the public and entrepreneur community for the prioritization of releasing city data sets; and makes San Francisco the first city in the nation to be tasked with developing a strategy to give residents access to their own government held data.

There are examples here in San Francisco and nationally that show open data used in practice, and how open data can help accomplish all of the positive benefits mentioned above. Whether, it is Yelp’s recent partnership with the city to post public health scores to their website for city restaurants to help residents make healthier choices, to residents being able to use the acclaimed San Francisco Recreation and Parks App, which helps residents and visitors find park and recreation locations, make picnic table reservations, and allows for tickets for concerts, art exhibits, and other events to be purchased straight from a mobile device.

The standardization of the city’s technical open data standards, which ensures that data will be available for use in machine readable format that are non-proprietary, is key to unlocking the true potential and value of appropriate data sets that the City holds. A recent report from Mckinsey&Company states that open data can help unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value worldwide annually across seven distinct sectors. A new economy with this great of potential is something that should not be ignored.

My ordinance also creates tighter deadlines for city departments to follow in the release and update of appropriate government data. Tighter deadlines regarding the release of open data sets creates certainty that will be extremely beneficial to the public and entrepreneur community. With more certainty, entrepreneurs and the public will be able to better plan around their individual ideas and implementations of our city’s open data sets that will be the base of the next product, service, or application that helps to benefit all San Franciscans.

The inclusion of timelines regarding the release of appropriate government data sets was not an arbitrary decision. It was a decision based in practice and from testimony we heard from the public and entrepreneur community. Yo Yoshida, CEO and Co-founder of Appallicious, was even quoted as saying “We look forward to putting some teeth into the open-data movement through this legislation. We do have some snafus with some departments not being able to release it quick enough to give the developers the ability to create products from this and create industry and jobs and move the movement forward.”

My ordinance also creates a better mechanism for the public and entrepreneur community to interact with city staff and departments who will be responsible for cataloging, updating, and uploading appropriate government data sets. By mandating each data set have the contact information of the staff that uploaded the data (phone and email) associated with the data set, any interactions between the two parties will be sure to spark creativity and discussion regarding potential high value data sets, so that the next amazing products and services will just be on the horizon.

Lastly, my ordinance would make San Francisco the first city in the nation to develop a strategy for giving residents access to their own government held data. The addition of this requirement in my ordinance believes in a growing national movement that is calling on all levels of government to give residents access to their own data for their own use. If it is yours, we should give it back to you – simple as that.

San Francisco Magazine called my ordinance the “Super-Boring City Law That Could Be Huge.” I guess open data may be boring to some, but I would tell you it depends on who you ask. It is definitely not boring when the transformative potential of open data is known to increase government efficiency and accountability, fuel further economic development, and create an atmosphere that encourages innovation, discovery and growth.

About Mark Farrell

Supervisor Mark Farrell was elected in 2010 to represent San Francisco’s District 2 on the Board of Supervisors after his first campaign for elected office. Prior to being elected Supervisor, Mark was an investment banker with Thomas Weisel Partners on their Internet & Digital Media Team, and is currently also a Managing Partner at Quest Hospitality Ventures – a San Francisco based venture capital firm focused on the hospitality and travel sector, which he co-founded.

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