Making Cities Open by Default: Lessons from open data pioneers

City governments play a vital role in building communities where people can live, work, and play, as well as fostering resilient and sustainable development. Cities are responsible for providing basic services that most directly impact the lives of the public. There is a growing movement to give people access to the data and information that they need to hold city leaders to account for the decisions they make and the services they deliver.

For this report, the Charter and OpenNorth investigated the opportunities and challenges faced by cities improving their open data programme, and specifically the role that the Charter can play in supporting this process.

We spoke to government officials, politicians and civil society from four cities (Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg) and one province (Ontario) in Canada, as well as three international cities (Lviv – Ukraine, Buenos Aires – Argentina and Durham – US).

Chicago and New York City’s Use of Open Budget Data: Case study

In the past several years, the three largest local governments in the Chicago-metropolitan area (the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools, and Cook County) have begun publishing open budget datasets. In that same time, the City of New York (NYC) began publishing open budget data, as well as transactional spending and contract data, through its Checkbook NYC website. Both Chicago and NYC’s open budget data has been lauded by transparency advocates as a best practice among cities in publishing financial data. The goal of this case study is to explore why and how local governments in NYC and Chicago are publishing open budget data and how journalists and civil society organizations are using this information. The goal is to describe in detail the form that open budget data is taking in these cities, why it was published in the first place, and what is being done with the data.

Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI): Overview

To build resilient societies, policymakers and the public must have access to the right data sets and information to inform good decisions—decisions such as where and how to build safer schools, how to insure farmers against drought, and how to protect coastal cities against future climate impacts.

Sharing data and creating open systems promotes transparency, accountability, and ensures a wide range of actors is able to participate in the challenge of building resilience.

The goal of this Overview Report, published in May 2013, is to communicate the vision, approach, and impact of the Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI). This program, launched in 2011 by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), is a critical component of the strategy toward helping countries better understand and manage disaster and climate risk. Access to the right information for decision-making is an essential component of building resilience and cuts across all components of this agenda. OpenDRI has developed programs in over 20 countries to achieve this end. This publication documents the successes and lessons learned throughout the course of this work.

Planning An Open Cities Mapping Project

This guide discusses the rationale and design of the Open Cities Project, the major components of its implementation to date, and some of the most salient lessons learned from the project so far. The Open Cities Project launched its efforts in three cities: Batticaloa, Sri Lanka; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Kathmandu, Nepal. These cities were chosen for:

  • Their high levels of disaster risk;
  • The presence of World Bank-lending activities related to urban planning and disaster management that would benefit from access to better data;
  • The willingness of government counterparts to participate in and help guide the interventions.

In each of these projects, Open Cities has supported the creation of new data while also attending to the cities’ broader ecosystems of open data production and use.

Leveraging robust, accurate data to improve urban planning and disaster risk management decisions requires not only high-quality information but also the requisite tools, skills, and willingness to commit to a data-driven decision-making process. With this in mind, Open Cities also has developed partnerships across government ministries, donor agencies, universities, private sector technology groups, and civil society organizations to ensure broad acceptance of the data produced, facilitate data use, and align investments across projects and sectors.

The guide is intended for practitioners who wish to bring community mapping initiatives to their cities or regions. Community mapping efforts often result in increased awareness of disaster risk within governments and a consensus within ministries that this risk must be reduced.