The Next Phase of Open Data
The Swiss company Paradox Engineering is partnering with the city of San Francisco to pilot a project that uses streetlight poles to develop an expandable wireless network. It’s just one example of how the city is unlocking the power of open data. swissnex will launch the online competition “Urban Data Challenge” in February, complete with a hackathon on Feb. 23, to engage creative problem solvers in San Francisco, Geneva, and Zurich.
By Hunter Franks, Community Manager, Mayor’s Office of Innovation
In October of 2012, Mayor Lee announced proposed revisions to San Francisco’s historic 2009 open data legislation. This proposed legislation strengthens San Francisco’s position as a national leader in open data.
Open data increases government efficiency and civic engagement, leading to social and economic benefits as a result of citizen interaction with government. Opening city data allows residents to use that data in innovative ways—to identify trends, to create solutions, and to build products and companies. Open data creates positive environments that support early stage entrepreneurship and contribute to workforce development and job creation.
Recognizing these benefits, in 2009 San Francisco became one of the first cities to share its data publicly through its open data effort—DataSF. DataSF now has more than 200 datasets from dozens of city agencies available and dozens of apps have been created from this data. There are some great examples of what open data can be used to do.
Local company Appallicious used park data to build the SF Rec Park app that allows locals and tourists alike to discover the wonder of San Francisco’s green spaces. Among a plethora of features, users can use the app to find park information, search parks based on facilities, and discover volunteer opportunities.
“Ninety-six percent of San Franciscans live within a ten-minute walk to a park,” said Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. “Access to recreation is so fundamental to the quality of our lives…It’s important and noble to give people easier tools to use the park system.”
Another great example of an app using open data is 100Plus, which prompts users to focus on making small, healthy lifestyle changes. The app uses open data sets from DataSF to map out San Francisco walking destinations. Users are then encouraged to walk to, and discover, new destinations. Each time a user completes a route, their “life score” increases, encouraging further healthy activity.
While many of these companies are using Open Data to develop their products, Mayor Lee also announced that the city will begin to look to private sector partners to start releasing some of their private data to the public. Local company Motionloft set a historic precedent when they agreed to release some of their data to the public. Motionloft uses sensors to collect information on how many pedestrians, cyclists, or cars pass by a certain location. This information is useful to a wide range of individuals, from urban planners to small business owners.
“Making city data available to everyday citizens will help government explore new solutions to old challenges,” said Mayor Lee. “Changing open data policies can unleash the creativity of the private sector so they can help us improve city services that impact our lives, from transportation, to how we access our parks, to how we request city services, making San Francisco the leader in Gov 2.0.”
The new legislation will not only ensure the continuation of strong external partnerships, but will create an internal champion—a chief data officer for the city of San Francisco. The chief data officer will lead San Francisco’s open data efforts, interfacing between city departments, private companies, and the public. San Francisco becomes only one of three cities in the U.S. to have the position of a chief data officer. In addition to the chief data officer, each city department will have a data coordinator to champion open data efforts within their department.
These proposed legislation changes keep San Francisco at the forefront of open data. Open data is a valuable tool that can improve a city—a tool that is built on partnerships and is open to everyone. Open data has the ability to solve civic challenges while creating new products, companies, and jobs. But it is only valuable if our citizens use it.
I encourage you to go to DataSF and explore your city. Check out the crime and housing data and think about how you could mash it together to help you decide where to move next. Find nearby restaurant health ratings or information on parks in your neighborhood. If you don’t live in San Francisco, check out the federal open data portal to explore or add your city’s data.
About the author
Hunter Franks is the Community Manager for the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. He focuses on co-creating solutions by empowering San Franciscans to collaborate with government to drive innovation in their city.