“Open data” is a great idea for state and local governments, providing a way for the public to easily access the mountains of data produced by governments at all levels. If it works, it provides ways to check what the city and state are actually doing and to hold elected officials accountable.
Elected officials have given lots of lip service to the idea over several years.
I wondered about the status of Hawaii’s open data initiatives, and decided to take a quick look at the city’s efforts. I’ll check on the state’s progress at another time.
In November 2013, the City Council passed Bill 53 (2013) regarding open data. It summarized the background of the open data movement.
The Council further finds that on June 26, 2012, the Governor issued an Executive Directive to all state department heads announcing the Open Data Initiative. On August 10, 2012, then-candidate and current Mayor Kirk Caldwell, signed an Open Data Pledge. On October 4, 2012, State Chief data officer Sanjeev Bhagowalia unveiled the State’s Twelve Year IT Transformation Plan, which included as one of its top priorities the establishment of a State open data portal at https://data.hawaii.gov. The City followed suit and created https://data.honolulu.qov. These actions enabled public facing websites to facilitate the sharing of master data sets. On July 3, 2013, the Governor signed into law Act 263, which relates to open data. This new law requires state executive branch departments to make electronic data sets available to the public, absolves the State from liability for certain deficiencies or incomplete data, and requires the Chief data officer to develop policies and procedures to implement the open data initiative.
Finally, the Council finds that an open data policy has been shown to drive increased government efficiency and civic engagement, leading to social and economic benefits as a result of innovative citizen interaction with government. Social and economic benefits include, but are not limited to, empowering citizens through the democratization of information and fostering citizen participation in city government projects, supporting early stage entrepreneurship, encouraging positive environments that contribute to workforce development and job creation, and fostering a positive business environment and public-private partnerships.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
The bill provides:
Each agency shall use reasonable efforts to make appropriate and existing electronic data sets maintained by the agency electronically available at no cost to the public through the city’s open data portal at data.honolulu.gov or its successor website designated by the city’s director of information technology….
As with lots of great sounding measures, there were several caveats. This seems to be the main one.
Nothing in this chapter shall require agencies to create new electronic data sets or to make data sets available upon demand…
I’ve just started to spot check what’s actually available at data.honolulu.gov. You can click on the link for a full catalog of available data. Since the list of available data sets is so large, dig in and share your observations with the rest of us.
Here’s my initial take.
Some of these data sources actually deliver on the promise. For example, the database of traffic incidents spans a period from 2012 through the present. That makes it possible to go back and spot problem areas, spots where more incidents are reported, etc.
Data on abandoned vehicles also covers a broad time period from 2007 to just the last couple of days.
But the database of “Crime Incidents” is described as “an active feed from the Honolulu Police Department.” But the last entries appear to be from August 22, 2015, where the data abruptly stops. So it’s almost complete, but somewhere along the line the ball was dropped.
Other data are much more limited. The Honolulu 311 reports are online. These are complaints or requests for service submitted using the Honolulu311 mobile app. When it was launched, this service got positive press.
But for some unknown reason, the online data only contain items submitted in the past month. That leaves no way to track the city’s performance over time, to identify problem areas, or the most frequent types of problems.
Some data looked interesting, but the links didn’t work, at least when I was checking. One promises to identify all state owned land. It provided an external link, which returned only an error message. A list of city owned properties couldn’t be opened without a county id and password.
Some databases are simple snapshots in time. For example, “Hanauma Bay Revenues FY14 2013-12-31.” Separate databases report revenues and expenditures at Hanauma over several fiscal years. That would at least make it possible to compile a time series to track changes or trends. Same with city budgets, reported in discrete files by year.
There’s a useful link for shoreline access points, which opens a map of Oahu with public access points shown as red dots. Click on one of them and you get a description of it.
Here’s one that might yield something interesting. It is apparently a list of the top ten internet sites accessed from each city department, but only covered the single month of Dec 2012. An updated list over time would certainly be of public interest!
In any case, there are hundreds of listed sources of data, but the list appears to contain lots of duplicates. Much of the data should be useful, others not so much.
But there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what’s in this collection of data, nor any sense that city departments are making progress in opening large datasets to the public.
I’ve seen some mainland jurisdictions provide access to the city’s checkbook, allowing micro-level analysis of departmental spending.
I searched for the term “contracts.” The only items found were city budgets. A search for “procurement” produced nothing. Of course, there are separate city systems for procurement matters, and I know lists of personal service contracts are provided regularly to the city council. But accessing these in the form of a database would make analysis of the lists easier and more likely for someone to undertake.
The other thing I notice is that few people make any use of these data. Only a handful of the thousand or so slices of city data have been accessed ore than a few hundred times since 2012. These seem to have been the most heavily used.
But even here there are problems.
Anyway, here are the most used databases, using the city’s numbers.