A Letter to the Open Data Community: One Year Later

By Civic Analytics Network • June 13, 2018

Last spring, the Civic Analytics Network (CAN) released “An Open Letter to the Open Data Community,” offering Eight Guidelines for Open Data to help the open data community—including vendors, startups, civic groups, and engaged individuals—work more openly and effectively.

We, the Chief Data Officers and analytics principals of CAN (a network of large cities and counties across the U.S.), released the 2017 Open Letter to: (1) communicate with greater specificity what CAN cities most value and need to fulfill in our respective data transparency and accessibility missions; and (2) help CAN engage in meaningful conversations with vendors, civic groups, and other interested parties to improve open data practices. Our aim was to communicate more openly and effectively with providers and others so that they may be better able to understand and meet our cities’ needs.

Since the 2017 letter’s publication, CAN has enjoyed an outpouring of support from many who work in this field, and who wish to discuss and collaborate on improving the open data ecosystem for the benefit of all communities. CAN would also like to acknowledge the progress made in this space in the past year—as a collaborative body, a professional network, and as individual cities we have made important changes to help advance and improve the open data community of practice.

In this year’s letter, we reaffirm our commitment to the Eight Guidelines for Open Data, offer updates on CAN’s open data engagements, and, in closing, provide select examples of CAN open data projects and accomplishments from the past year.


CAN’s guidelines for open data were developed with input across our organization’s membership, and constitute a vision for open data that our cities have pursued and will continue to pursue in the year ahead. These eight guidelines have not only supported our internal discussions around open data, but also informed our conversations with vendors, civic groups, and other external parties. The guidelines are as follows:

1. Improve accessibility and usability of data to engage a wider audience.

2. Move away from a single dataset centric view.

3. Treat geospatial data as a first-class data type.

4. Improve management and usability of metadata.

5. Decrease the cost and work required to publish data.

6. Introduce revision history.

7. Improve management of large datasets.

8. Set clear transparent pricing based on memory, not number of datasets.

A full description of these eight points can be found here.


Since the release of the 2017 open data letter, CAN cities have undertaken a number of engagements with members of the open data community, including vendors, advocacy groups, and government officials. Below we detail a few examples of this work from over the past year:

  • CivicActions, a digital services firm focused on building and providing products and services to government, recently became the go-to home of Project DKAN. DKAN, an open source and freely-available open data platform. After reaching out to CAN, CivicActions posted each priority from the original open data letter onto its GitHub site, creating a forum for open discussion on these issues for everyone who wishes to get involved.
  • Paris-based online platform provider OpenDataSoft, which has recently been expanding its presence in the United States, posted its own public open data letter in response to CAN’s, and connected with network members to demonstrate how its work is aligned with the values stated in the original letter.
  • Shortly after the publication of the 2017 letter, Socrata reached out to voice its support of the letter’s goals. Socrata has worked to institute changes to align with several of our letter’s key priorities. This includes introducing a bulk editor for easier metadata management; launching Catalog, Discovery and Primer to make open data more accessible and usable to wider audiences; and focusing additional effort on meeting geographic data needs.
  • State of Connecticut CDO Tyler Kleykamp voiced his support of the Open Data Letter via Medium, noting that a network like CAN with similar values would benefit state CDOs, and connected with the network during the 2017 Summit on Data-Smart Government.
  • Throughout the past year, CAN cities have engaged with and provided information and feedback to the Sunlight Foundation, which recently released its Open Data Census, an annual report that tracks what datasets are open and available in cities across the United States. The Open Data Census serves as a valuable tool that complements the vision and spirit of CAN’s original letter. Sunlight’s Census allows residents and city staffers to better understand what data their city makes available, how their city’s data compares to other American cities’ available data, and what datasets their city should consider releasing in the name of transparent and accountable government.


Over the past year, CAN cities have made great strides to improve and expand municipal open data practices. Furthermore, CAN member cities themselves have taken measures to improve open data resources, advancing the eight guidelines for the betterment of their communities. Below we offer select examples of just some of the noteworthy open data accomplishments in CAN cities since spring 2017.

It is important to note that each of the projects below reflect an accomplishment aligned with Guideline 1. Improving accessibility and usability to engage a wider audience and its supporting principles. This is significant because while open data practices, agreements, portals, and beyond are expanding, the community of practice is still maturing, and providing better, agile, UI design quickly remains an ongoing objective. .

In Boston, the city launched Analyze Boston, its new user-friendly portal focused on transitioning the city to a new open data platform. This effort, which required extensive research and feedback from residents, is a part of Boston’s Open Data to Open Knowledge Program, which aims to open Boston’s data to the public as much as possible.

[Guidelines 1, 2, 5]

In Chicago, the city’s long-running open data portal rolled out a brand-new design last year to increase users’ ability to discover and understand city data. To help ensure that residents of Chicago would find the redesign more usable, Chicago partnered with local civic organization Smart Chicago Collaborative to host a Civic User Testing Group session, garnering resident feedback and input on its design from residents across the city. OpenGrid, the city’s open-source built geospatial data hub for the public to browse local map-based data, continued to expand its data offerings throughout the year.

[Guidelines 1, 3]

In Los Angeles, the GeoHub, a public platform for exploring, visualizing, and downloading location-based Open Data, has continued its expansion.

[Guidelines 1, 3]

In Louisville, the city leveraged Open Data Day to involve its open source DKAN vendor CivicActions and hosted a hackathon to get local coders from around the world to improve the site itself. The city also released its annual Open Data Report that marked its growth in data offerings for residents.

[Guideline 1]

In New York, NYC Open Data for All, the city’s annual open data report, was released with particular focus on open data users. In addition to presenting policy and technology updates, New York captured stories of the land use advocates, small businesses, community boards, CUNY students, green infrastructure researchers, inter-faith organizers, and other New Yorkers who are using open data to make an impact at the local level.

[Guidelines 1, 2]

In San Francisco, the Open Data Explorer, an open-source platform which makes finding and understanding open data easier for residents, was launched in beta mode. It provides users with tools to visually understand a dataset’s underlying structure, easy access to a dataset’s metadata, and the ability to test underlying assumptions about a given dataset, among other features. They also launched a four-part blog series on managing an open data program.

[Guidelines 1, 4]

In Washington, D.C., a new Data Policy was enacted that balances strong commitments to open and accessible data for all residents with policies that ensure data protection and privacy.

[Guideline 1]

CAN’s call for open communication, shared learning, and partnership remains open to vendors and civic technologists alike and we look forward to continuing our work to help grow and expand the open data community and practices.

This article was prepared with support from Jessica A. Gover, Sean Thronton, and Jason Lally.

About the Author

Civic Analytics Network

Established with the support of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Civic Analytics Network is a new national peer network of urban Chief Data Officers (CDOs). The Civic Analytics Network collaborates on shared projects that advance the use of data visualization and predictive analytics in solving important urban problems related to economic opportunity, poverty reduction, and addressing the root causes of social problems.

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