Open government advocates have been hounding the city for years over its not so easy to access reservoirs of public data – everything from public safety information to 3-1-1 calls to public transit usage. New data processing and visualization tools make examining the information easier, which can help to increase government transparency.
Austin was selected last week as a partner city with Code for America, a non-profit organization that connects developers with people who deliver city services. Code for America receives funding from the Knight Foundation and Microsoft among many others.
The city has made some steps toward making public data more accessible. In November, it opened its check register to allow people to view payments to individuals and companies. The city has some geographic information system (GIS) data sets available here.
But for those championing open government, making data available is only part of the goal.
“It’s about more than ‘Let’s put out the information out there,’” said Julio Gonzalez Altamirano with OpenAustin, a local organization that promotes open government. “It’s about the productivity gains and the engagement gains that come with using the information to create new products and new ways of interacting with public services.”
For example, he says, neighborhoods could use crime statistics not just to find out where someone was stabbed, but also to identify trends and work more effecitvely with police to combat trouble spots in their neighborhoods.
Gonzalez Altamirano wrote on the OpenAustin blog about some of the lessons Austin could learn from open government initiatives in New York City, whose Mayor Michael Bloomberg Tweeted last month, “In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data.”
Austin's partnership with Code for America starts in January 2012.