James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

Big step forward for open government in Minneapolis

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: August 1, 2014 - 11:15 AM
Council Member Andrew Johnson championed the open data policy (Star Tribune file)

Council Member Andrew Johnson championed the open data policy (Star Tribune file)

Earlier this morning, the Minneapolis City Council adopted an open data policy, making it the 16th city in the nation to take this step toward transparency and accountability. Within 120 days, the city must create a data "portal" in which departments will make electronic records available to the public for download.

Bill Bushey of Open Twin Cities, who lobbied for the policy, has a detailed analysis here. He and others were able to point to other cities have taken the lead in providing raw records to an increasingly data-savvy public.

The city of Chicago offers more than 1,000 data sets, including constantly-updated crime reports, pothole patching maps, building permits, food inspections and beach water testing results. After adopting an open data plan last year, New York City will require all agencis to open their data by 2018. So far, there are more than 1,000 data sets available, including 311 requests, lists of sidewalk cafes, a census of street trees and a map of handball courts. The federal government's portal has more than 100,000 data sets.

There's always a question about whether cities will voluntarily provide information that could make them look bad (disciplinary actions against city employees, for example, or data that shows a slow or non-existent response to citizen complaints). But with an open data policy in place, it's up to us to press Minneapolis agencies to get their databases online, warts and all. And we should use Minneapolis' example to get other cities to open up their data. They should welcome the scrutiny, because they need our help to know what they're doing. 

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