Supervisor's Report

Open data: endless possibilities

What has the possibil-ity to create $3 trillion in global economic value annually, promote greater accountability, transparency, and efficiency in government and the private sector, and enhance your quality of life? You might be amazed to believe that the answer is data.

More specifically, open data.

What is open data?

All across the nation, cities, counties, states, and even the federal government are taking steps toward making appropriate government data available, because open data has helped to spark innovation, drive efficiency and cost savings in government, and fuel further economic development.

The leading idea and principle behind open data is simple: public information — in this case, troves of data that government keeps to help analyze and operate — is free public information that should be accessible to the public online and in modern formats.

Open data is data that is free for use, reuse and redistribution. Open data is data that is released without restrictions and data that is technically open, meaning that data is made available in a machine-readable format, which can be easily used by computers and their systems.

There are examples here in San Francisco and nationally that show open data used in practice and how it can help accomplish all of the positive benefits mentioned above. There is Yelp’s recent partnership with the city to post public health scores to their website for restaurants. Another example is the ability to use the acclaimed San Francisco Park and Recreation app to find park locations, make picnic table reservations, and even purchase tickets for concerts, art exhibits, and other events straight from a mobile device.

San Francisco’s national leadership in open data

Just like many other policies and programs, San Francisco was an early adopter in the open data movement and was one of the first cities in the nation to establish an open data policy when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive directive to do so in 2009. Since then, I’ve taken a leadership position at the board to help further our city’s open data policy, and I recently passed unanimously supported legislation that sought to set data standards for our policy and create timelines for our city departments to release appropriate open data sets to create more accountability and certainty for the public and entrepreneurs.

Recently, Code for America, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Knight Foundation — three leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations in the open data movement — created the first Open Data Census, which ranked cities across the nation on a variety of factors within their open data policies. I’m proud to say that in the first census, San Francisco was ranked the number-one city in the country for its innovative overall open data efforts and policies.

We’re continuing to push and solidify the boundaries of the open data movement here in San Francisco. In my recently passed legislation, we tasked our newly hired chief data officer with the responsibility to develop a first-in-the-nation strategy for how we as a government should develop policies and services to provide you easy access to your own personal data. There is vital information that we as a city should be prepared to give you access to if you need it, including building records, permit records, or medical information.

Additionally, I recently introduced legislation that treats our city’s legislative information as open data and directs our clerk to post our legislative information online in data formats consistent with our recently adopted open data standards. In doing so, San Francisco would become the first “open legislation” city in the United States and continue our national leadership in the open data movement. This legislation is the first step to making our legislative process as transparent and open as possible for our residents and developing and using software that will allow our residents to comment online on specific pieces of legislation that are important to them.

Open data, large impact

Open data has the power to transform government and the private sector in ways that have yet to be imagined. I am a firm believer in embracing innovation and cutting-edge policies that have shown the potential to promote economic development, hold government accountable, make government more efficient and cost-effective, and deliver applications, services, and platforms that can further enhance our day-to-day lives. Open data accomplishes all of this and then some.

As the open data movement continues to mature, I pledge to you to evolve with the movement and further update our city’s open data policies to continue our city’s national leadership role. Open data provides a value proposition so high that is rare for government to receive, so I hope you join me in promoting opportunities to continue to advocate for the broad-ranging benefits that open data promises to deliver.

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Mark Farrell is the District 2 supervisor and can be reached at 415-554-7752 or