Reams of public data addressing everything from restaurant inspections to city spending may soon become easier to access under an "open data policy" under consideration at City Hall.

The policy, which will be presented to a committee this Wednesday, would create a new 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 like Chicago and New York have already created similar portals, allowing developers and journalists to illuminate trends and create tools for public use. Chicago's portal contains more than 1,000 datasets, 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 Andrew Johnson, a former systems engineer who has helped lead the open data initiative.

The policy (below) says that the portal must be available within 120 days of enactment, meaning late 2014. What data is 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. They control a range of datasets including health code inspections and 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," Johnson said.

Other departments have expressed concerns about committing staff resources, releasing inaccurate data or having data misinterpreted, Johnson 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."

Starting in 2015, all new contracts must include provisions to ensure data can be published when appropriate. Each department must also assign an open data coordinator to facilitate uploading data and serve on an advisory group.

Photo: A map of abandoned vehicles in Chicago, from the city's data portal.

Open Data Policy Final