Push, Pull, and Spill: A Transdisciplinary Case Study in Municipal Open Government

December 06, 2016 by Jan Whittington, Ryan Calo, Mike Simon, Jesse Woo, Meg Young, Peter Schmiedeskamp

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Cities hold considerable information, including details about the daily lives of residents and employees, maps of critical infrastructure, and records of the officials’ internal deliberations. Cities are beginning to realize that this data has economic and other value: If done wisely, the responsible release of city information can also release greater efficiency and innovation in the public and private sector. New services are cropping up that leverage open city data to great effect. Meanwhile, activist groups and individual residents are placing increasing pressure on state and local government to be more transparent and accountable, even as others sound an alarm over the privacy issues that inevitably attend greater data promiscuity. This takes the form of political pressure to release more information, as well as increased requests for information under the many public records acts across the country. The result of these forces is that cities are beginning to open their data as never before. It turns out there is surprisingly little research to date into the important and growing area of municipal open data. This article is among the first sustained, cross-disciplinary assessments of an open municipal government system. We are a team of researchers in law, computer science, information science, and urban studies. We have worked hand-in-hand with the City of Seattle, Washington for the better part of a year to understand its current procedures from each disciplinary perspective. Based on this empirical work, we generate a set of recommendations to help the city manage risk latent in opening its data.