20 Open Gov Leaders You Need to Know

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Stuart Drown

Stuart Drown

Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Accountability
California Government Operations Agency

What’s your big project in open data/open government right now?

Our biggest project has been making data.ca.gov the central repository for state government data and federating data sets from other California state portals. To power innovation and public collaboration efforts, GovOps built the “Find a New Way” website for innovation challenges and other open data-related events. It is in beta form now, but we are excited about its potential.Going forward, GovOps and the Department of Technology are working on a new open source policy, which hasnt been updated since 2010. Having a modern statewide policy is important as the data.ca.gov open data portal is built on an open source platform and open source code is at the heart of the state’s agile design/modular procurement projects for child welfare services and medical cannabis regulation.

How is this work changing how government does business?

We are giving departments more opportunities to be open, whether in collaborating with the public, sharing data within the government, or encouraging the use of open source code to build tools and systems that can be shared widely. “Find a New Way” can draw attention to challenges government faces, and function as an open invitation to people who want to help by using open data the state has published. It also is a repository of previous challenges, so can function as a innovation library. The open source code policy should get everyone on the same page, especially as more departments use agile design and modular procurement. Reusing code should avoid costs. Having others use our code and improve on it benefits California as well.

What’s one change you would like to see in the open government space?

Id like departments to see open data as a communications tool as much as an analytics tool.


Sam Edelstein

Sam Edelstein

Chief Data Officer
Syracuse, New York

What’s your big project in open data/open government right now?

In Syracuse, we are working to release data that can be immediately useful to community organizations and other partners. We know that if neighborhood groups are using the data to inform their decision making, the program will continue to grow and be successful. Housing, neighborhoods, poverty, and infrastructure top priorities in this city, so we’ve released, and will continue to release, data related to these issues.

How is this work changing how government does business?

Internally, we talk about how we can use the open data portal to facilitate discussion and engagement with the community. We recently released code and lead violations with the hope that tenants get more information about a future home, landlords strive to keep their properties safe, and community organizations can use the data to plan how they invest in a neighborhood. By making the data available for all to see, everyone starts from the same place when talking about specific neighborhoods or properties.

What’s one change you would like to see in the government and/or open data space?

Places like Western Pennsylvania, with the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, have done a great job of bringing data from communities in the area together. More participation from counties and small towns and villages would show that data does not stop at a border, and would provide more opportunities for comparison and sharing of good ideas. All governments should also know that while it takes work to release data publicly, a lot of government data is already out there in a variety of formats. Getting that data into a spreadsheet for people to download and analyze does not have to be costly, and ultimately can benefit the government and its residents.


David Greisen

David Greisen

Co-founder and CEO
Open Law Library

What’s your big project in open data/open government right now?

Open Law Librarys mission is to improve access to legal data for both governments and the public. We accomplish our mission by building software for governments that makes it cost effective to generate and capture human- and computer-readable legal data at scale.

Every year, governments generate millions of pages of laws and regulations and law-related items like department policies, operational procedures, permitting forms, and legal interpretations. When this information is easily accessible and interlinked and searchable, it eases intra-governmental communication, makes possible intergovernmental flow of best practices, and can help the public better understand and interact with their governments. Despite all these benefits, most legal materials, if they are available at all, are scattered across many websites in formats that are not easily searchable, linkable, or computer readable they are not published as legal data.

The Open Law Platform automates much of the law drafting and publishing process, integrates many legal data sources, and publishes all of this legal data without restrictive copyrights. By doing so, governments and the public gain access to a rich, sustainable source of up-to-date, interlinked legal data.

How is this work changing how government does business?

The District of Columbia has been piloting the Open Law Platform over the past year. The District uses the Platform to publish and maintain over 20,000 pages of open legal data in XML. This data allows for generation of a fully linked body of laws and code, making it easier for District employees and citizens to find the information they need. This data also easily connects to other District information, like legislative history and regulations.

Although capturing, publishing, and connecting this data is traditionally labor intensive, the Open Law Platform leverages technology to simplify and expedite the process. At the law-drafting stage, our AI-powered drafting assistant understands the Districts unique formatting requirements and can automatically identify and fix many errors. The platform then generates an XML representation of the law, integrates information from the Districts legislative information system, and prepares the law for publication.

Having an XML representation of the law also saves considerable resources down the line. When new laws need to be integrated with the Districts Code, the process can be largely automated. With the Open Law Platform, the District saves more than 80 percent on the total resources required to create the District Code.

What’s one change you would like to see in the government and/or open data space?

We hope governments will view publishing their laws online as the first step in a process of turning legal materials into legal data that can help both governments and the public they serve. All too often, legal publishing begins and ends with laws siloed on a website as HTML or poorly OCRd PDFs. But just because these materials can be viewed, doesnt mean they can be easily found, contextualized, understood, or used by governments or the public.

When legal documents are published as legal data, they can be easily found via powerful and fast search. They can be contextualized through a web of interlinked annotations, metadata, and other legal data. They can be understood because they are part of a rich ecosystem of high-quality up-to-date materials explaining important concepts at low reading levels. They can be easily used because they are accessible to people of all abilities and walks of life, and can be leveraged by automation to improve access to justice and the delivery of legal aid.

We are committed to helping governments sustainably publish legal data that meets these high standards. We hope they will embrace open legal data as they have embraced other types of open data.


Karen Li-Lun Hwang

Karen Li-Lun Hwang

Digital Projects and Metadata Librarian
Metropolitan New York Library Council

What’s your big project in open data/open government right now?

A lot of the work that I’ve been dealing with is in what’s called semantic web technologies and linked open data. These technologies revolve around the idea of interoperability, which is a huge concept in library science in particular. Today you have all these different repositories with digital objects in them and these may represent collections at different libraries and archives and a lot of this data is not interoperable. So we have a situation where a lot of library data is now trying to be aggregated to larger platforms like the Digital Public Library of America, but the problem is that the descriptive data practices used by different digital collection groups is not necessarily the same. So one thing that linked open data focus on is this promise in library science of interoperability.

How is this work changing how government does business?

One of the things that I feel can happen from the whole cultural heritage sector of libraries is that if we start using linked open data and start graphing our data in different ways it allows the data to being reused. The whole idea behind semantic web technologies is that you start making it so that whatever is put out as data you give it semantic meaning. So instead of being strings of text or parsable text, it actually has meaning. You structure it in a way that component being talked about can be connected and can be show their relationship between this thing and that thing. Once you have this, this kind of modeling of the data, you can start to take your data sets outside of their original database and start integrating with other data. So for example, if more linked data were used in government open data, then people could take those datasets and start interlinking them however they want with other datasets.

What’s one change you would like to see in the open government space?

I think that in addition to this idea of teaching people how to process the data there also has to be data literacy. I think sometimes we get so enthusiastic about data and using data and especially with scientific data that we forget to ask basic questions about like, “Where did it come from?” and “What caveats are there in the data?” Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over the fact that certain data has inadequacies in what it is trying to represent.


Melissa Kraft

Melissa Kraft

Chief Technology Officer
Denton, Texas

What’s your big project in open data/open government right now?

The City of Denton has asked University of North Texas to assist in the development of a digital roadmap for the City of Denton in an effort to guide the city in being a smart city. A smart city is a city that monitors and integrates the conditions of all of its critical infrastructures, including roads, airports, communications, water, power, to better optimize its resources, plan its preventive maintenance activities, and monitor security aspects while providing value to its citizens. We are wanting to gather insights and explore the types of initiatives that would be important to the various stakeholders. As part of this project, this will include a survey to both internal staff and the public. With this feedback, we will develop a proof of concept in how smart cities applies and solves problems.

We are in the process of expanding our open data portal to include an open checkbook and visualization feature. Our goal is to allow visitors to visualize the City of Denton financial data. Additionally, visitors will be able to refine their search and customize viewing options to find issued checks by check number, department, function and various other options.

How is this work changing how government does business?

This is changing the way of how government looks at the information it generates and how this can use used as a tool to empower the citizens, improve governance, build feedback loops, and enable economic growth and innovation. Citizens want clear, credible information from the government about how its carrying on its business. By making it easier for citizens to access government data or services this allows for a wider range of expertise and knowledge to address and potentially solve complex problems or lead to exciting new solutions. This creates new ways for citizens to assist in designing and improving the delivery of public services. The ultimate goal is to foster a environment of collaboration and trust with our citizens.

What’s one change you would like to see in the government and/or open data space?

I would like to see more collaborative maintenance models. I would like to see governments work with other organizations and partners to improve the use cases or abilities of open government interfaces. Data intermediaries or aggregators can play a role in helping governments provide information for citizens and ensure that it is available in a method which is valuable and useful by combining datasets or offering additional services.

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