Open and transparent aren’t just campaign promises in Chattanooga. They are words symbolic of a new way of thinking and a new standard for our community. As we set out to draft a new Open Data Policy for Chattanooga City Government, we knew this policy should not only set the standard for what open data could and should be but it should also be written by the people who will come up with the best uses for our data — Chattanoogans themselves.
Many know of Chattanooga, Tennessee as “Gig City.” It’s true, we are home to the fastest, most pervasive, and least expensive gigabit infrastructure in the Western Hemisphere. My phone is constantly ringing with reporters on the other end, asking about our high speed fiber optic infrastructure. My response is always the same – we are in the Innovation Century and cities must be ready. Big infrastructure investments like the gig is one way cities can be ready. Another way is opening data to providing the best possible platform for innovation and community problem solving.
On February 13, 2014 we joined the GitHub Government Community and opened our proposed Open Data policy for citizen feedback. Posting our Open Data policy on GitHub gets us all one step closer to a policy that has considered the needs of technologists, researchers, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, journalists, and citizens alike. The City of Chattanooga can only become a true model for government innovation by creating real and documented dialogue between City government and the citizens we serve.
City Hall is not going it alone. In 2013, the Open Chattanooga Collaborative received a Knight Information Challenge matching grant. The grant will establish an open data portal and train key groups to utilize public data in a way that informs and addresses important community issues.
My office along with our Public Library and our local Brigade are working together to collaboratively to not only open our public data and make it accessible, but to build a community committed to using data as a solution to local issues.
Cities learn from each other, and we have seen how open data can spur economic development and build community solutions to difficult problems. Chattanooga’s unique digital assets combined with a thriving community of entrepreneurs, developers, and hackers make us well positioned to become a model of how a Southern mid-sized City can become a model of government innovation. With the help of initiatives like Code for America and resources like GitHub, Chattanooga is well on its way.