Sunlight Foundation launches national open data policy portal

A new website represents the beginnings of an effort to make transparency policies understandable and a discussion point among city leaders.

Editor’s Note: Significant changes were made to this story on Dec. 13 with additional information and clarification from the Sunlight Foundation.

The Sunlight Foundation relaunched its Open Data Policies Decoded website Friday.

The website, which serves as a clearinghouse for open data policies published by government offices around the country, was born from a vision that governments should publish their data online by default so citizens have access and so businesses and technologists can use the data to provide additional services.

The project has moved out of beta with a series of new features that make its collection of open data policies — now totaling 47 — more searchable, easier to expand and simpler to digest.


Sunlight’s Open Date Project Lead Stephen Larrick said the transparency organization has been working on the site since it launched in August through a partnership with Bloomberg’s What Works Cities (WWC), an initiative to fund data use in cities, and the OpenGov Foundation, that supplied its open source software for municipal code publishing.

“We were beta-testing this idea with some open source software that was readily available to us in the state decoded package, and in this past couple months we added some functionality and some features, and we actually moved it to a simpler website,” Larrick said.

The site’s updates and official status were announced by Larrick in Paris as part of the 2016 Open Government Partnerships Global Summit. In addition to a map that connects visitors to jurisdictions have adopted open data policies, the site boasts search functionality that applies Google’s algorithm to hunt for related words — instead of just matching text. The project’s website allows users to comment on individual pieces of legislation using the comment platform Disqus.

Larrick said the ability to comment is particularly notable so that lawmakers, transparency advocates and citizens can exchange policy observations, recommendations and criticisms.

“We don’t just have to have that conversation internally in our office anymore, we can have a conversation in the open, on the website,” Larrick said.


Moreover, Open Data Policies Decoded was updated with an enhanced resources page. This includes an automated open data policy maker that generates policy drafts based on a user prompts, a Google form to submit new or updated policies, Sunlight’s own open data policy guidelines and a link to WWC’s open data policy checklist. WWC has worked with Sunlight to assist dozens of cities on data projects, with an emphasis on open data.

“What we wanted to do was provide this broad access but connect the dots from accessing the information, to being able to understand that information, to writing that information,” Larrick said. “We’re working towards a future where it’s not just the lawyers, the lawmakers and lobbyists that are able to participate in the process of making law.”

Further efforts Larrick said will enhance the site’s search capabilities through a partnership with the Comparative Constitutions Project and its Constitute tool that will improve search tags within policies.

To develop the site further, the organization is asking for user feedback and for updates on new jurisdictions with open data policies. Sunlight is also requesting input on the site’s open source code, which is published on GitHub.

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