Reams of public data addressing everything from restaurant inspections to city spending soon may become easier to access under an open data policy under consideration at Minneapolis City Hall.
The policy, which will be presented to a City Council committee this Wednesday, would create a portal where departments can upload raw public data about different metrics they are tracking. To access that information now, inquiring citizens and journalists must formally request it from the city.
Other cities including Chicago and New York have created similar portals, allowing developers and residents to illuminate trends and create tools for public use. Chicago's portal contains data on more than 1,000 topics, from historical crime data to a map of abandoned vehicles.
If passed, Minneapolis would be the 16th city in the country to have such a policy.
"This is really positioning us for being up there in the nation in terms of transparency," said City Council Member Andrew Johnson, a former systems engineer who has helped lead the open data initiative.
The policy says that the portal must be available within 120 days of enactment. What data are uploaded will largely be left to the discretion of departments, however.
Johnson said some departments are more interested than others, particularly Health and Regulatory Services. It controls data on a range of topics, from health code inspections to landlord violations. "I think that by being champions of it and showing how they can utilize open data to work better and achieve more of their goals, other departments will see the value and follow suit," he said.
Other departments have expressed concerns about committing staff resources, releasing inaccurate data or having data misinterpreted, he said.
The policy says there are many benefits to increasing data transparency: "By making its data available online, the city will enable the public to: (1) assist in identifying efficient solutions for government, (2) promote innovative strategies for social progress, and (3) create economic opportunities."
If the policy were enacted, starting in 2015, all new contracts would have to include provisions to ensure that data can be published when appropriate. Each department also would have to assign an open data coordinator to facilitate uploading data and serve on an advisory group.