Big Data, Intelligence Solutions

The State of California is Doing Data Right

Open data has great promise to increase transparency within government, raise accountability for officials and agencies, and better engage citizens. While federal initiatives are well underway, the open data movement has a more profound impact at the state and local level where data has a closer tie to the community and citizens’ daily lives.

The scope of it use varies across cities and states. A quick search into how localities are using it reveals that California is a star player; often, it’s the most mentioned and most frequent subject in articles praising state and local open data use. In fact, just last month the state announced plans to pilot a next-generation open data portal to house all of its public agency data under one roof. Across the state, California’s open data projects are mature and outstanding – San Francisco and Sacramento topped the list for best cities for it in 2014. In response to this maturation and success, California is looking to replace their old system,, with a new portal,, by June 2016.

Some open data projects across the state of California include:

Citygram is a web application developed and used in several cities nationwide that notifies citizens of updates, new buildings, and more. This app lets users select their city and choose topics of interest, such as pending re-zonings or upcoming business construction. Then citizens enter their address and a radius to consider “nearby” and finally select either text messaging or email for their weekly notifications. San Diego and San Francisco are both on the list of cities participating in the program. San Francisco even put its own spin on the app by allowing subscribers to sign up for notifications on tree plantings.

Using the Street Wize application, city planners and construction teams in Los Angeles can go online and see whether the road they want to repave is already scheduled to go under construction or if the new sewer pipe they plan on installing is going to adversely affect the water in another area. City residents can also access the same information which lets them know how long their street will be under construction or what routes to take to avoid road work. Street Wize was initially designed to help city maintenance and water departments, but its use has expanded and is now also being employed by public safety teams to help speed emergency response times.

To meet demands for more transparency in state spending, California is developing FI$Cal, the Financial Information System for California, which officials plan to have fully implemented by 2018. This centralized system will allow interested parties to view important state financial expenditure information at the checkbook level. The program will streamline 2,500 legacy financial systems across 120 distinct departments and will consolidate budgeting, accounting, procurement, and cash management.

Still, even with California’s successes, it’s not easy to adopt an open data policy at the state and local level. A University of Southern California study, Empowering Public through Open Data: Findings and Recommendations for City Leaders in Los Angeles County, studied LA County’s open data policies and issued a series of recommendations that can be used by localities nation-wide to more effectively implement open data projects and initiatives:

  • Focus on transparency, but also how it can be used to solve real problems
  • Create a network of executives and officials who advocate for it
  • Find opportunities for funding within your agency or look for third party funds
  • Highlight and measure success and value in supporting policies in your city
  • Prioritize the release of key, citizen-focused datasets
  • Ensure the protection of individuals by establishing guidelines
  • Garner support for it through policy
  • Go beyond standard protocols to meet the unique context of your city

Industry has responded to the needs of state and local organizations looking to open their data. Socrata’s Open Data Portal, used in Austin’s 311 system, makes information widely available to citizens and is even being used in emergency response situations. The cloud-based solution allows government organizations to put their data online easily, make data-driven decisions with confidence, operate more efficiently, and share insights with citizens efficiently.

For more details on how open data is being used in government or how your agency can get a head start on developing an effective and efficient open data policy, click here.

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