Open Data Guidelines Redux – What You Need To Know

Open data is no longer just a fad. We’re now living in a world that demands government data be open to the public. So how can agencies cope? Last year the Sunlight Foundation came out with their Open Data Policy guidelines. The goal of the guidelines was simple: get government started on the path to openness and transparency.

A year later, Sunlight is back with an updated version of those guidelines. So what’s in there — and what’s changed?

Emily Shaw, National Policy Manager for the Sunlight Foundation, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program why and how her organization created the guidelines in the first place.

Back in 2012, the Sunlight Foundation decided to translate open data principles into actionable guidelines. The original iteration of the guide included 30 specific ways that you could implement open data as a policy in your organization.

But it soon became clear that it was time for an update.

“We’ve gotten a lot more information about common challenges that people face and the types of questions that are popping up regularly,” said Shaw.

The Sunlight Foundation has worked to make the guidelines applicable at every level. “We want to be sure that the very small municipalities, very large ones, counties, states, all are able to create policies that make sense,” said Shaw.

Shaw outlines what guidelines have been updated:

  • Free Data: The new guidelines call to make data license-free, and to securely ensure that governments are making their data most available for use and reuse.
  • From the Top: The new guidelines provide more specific for the policy development stage. Sunlight has always talked about the need to inventory a government’s entire data holdings, but now they’re pointing out that that’s something that’s important to do from the beginning of the process. If you start from the beginning different kinds of stakeholders can get involved in helping to guide how that policy is going to work.
  • Requirement Redo: The new guidelines call for governments to avoid creating attribution requirements, and instead provide ways that government data managers can recommend for users to cite their data. Sunlight’s guidelines describe the difference between data attribution, which is a legal requirement, and data citation, which is a good data management process for identifying the origin and prominence of data.

Opponents of the open data movement often cite privacy and sensitive information. But Shaw says those worries are blown out of proportion.

“Our policy’s always been that exemption’s to releasing data should be drawn narrowly. There should be a balance test that requires the government to identify what specific harm will come from the release of certain information so that it can be clear that data is excluded only because of a specific anticipated harm, and not willy-nilly.”

In addition to the general open data policy updates, the Sunlight Foundation has also included an implementation policy that calls for the creation of an open data overseer.

“We’ve had a lot more experience now with different kinds of open data authority structures, and with the idea of timelines and reporting back,” said Shaw. “We have talked about the need to have a person who can act independently and have the public’s interest at heart. We’re working now on trying to kind of specify more clearly what that role might look like.”

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