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City Continues To Open Data To Public

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Residents in Louisville now have access to more city-related data than ever before.City officials have increased the amount of open data by nearly 200 percent in just a year’s time, according to the inaugural Open Data Report by Metro Technology Services.This means that information about subjects as diverse as foreclosure sales, city expenditures, resident complaints and registered dog bites are available for public viewing via an online portal.  And Metro Technology Services director Jason Ballard said more is to come.“[The portal is] still in its infant stages,” he said.But he added that there are challenges that come with getting older data systems to communicate with newer technologies and said it will take some time before the portal is where it needs to be.Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer filed an executive order in October 2013, whichdeclaredthat public data from any Metro Government department should be “open by default,” unless it is sensitive material protected by law.This means that data from any and every office, administrative unit, commission, board, advisory committee or other division of Metro Government within the official jurisdiction of the executive branch should be “proactively” made available “without barriers for its reuse and consumption,” such as licensing related hurdles, like fees, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open, accountable government.Patrick Smith, a data analyst for Louisville’s Civic Data Alliance, said open data is more than just ensuring government transparency, it is also a tool for economic growth.“It’s very important to realize that this is something that is great for business, it’s great for attracting business,” he said.Open data policies can attract entrepreneurs that are looking for a city that “gets data” and embraces an evolving technology environment, Smith said.Out of 74 cities participating in the U.S. City Open Data Census, Louisville ranks 13th in terms of openness.Smith said Louisville's data portal needs more uniformity to the portal.  He said some data available is incomplete, while other data sets are duplicated.These issues, however, are not easy fixes, he adds.Jason Ballard with Metro Technology Services said there is an eight person team working on Open Data—which can create workload setbacks when there are thousands of lines of data to check.Ballard said an Open Data forum will be held on November 10 and community members are encouraged to attend to voice concerns or share ideas about how the city’s open data could be improved.One of the next steps in the Open Data process is creating a steering committee that can help oversee how the data is presented, he said.Despite the work that needs to be done, Smith said he believes the work being done to create open data for public use is a step in the right direction for becoming a competitive, efficient city.“Even if people aren’t technologically savvy, they can get behind what it is it’s actually doing,” he said.  “Open data is something we really need to help make the government work better for the people.”

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.