Transparent and Accountable Government
Texas leaders remain committed to government transparency and accountability. To promote efficiency and effectiveness in government and fully engage citizens, state agencies should post open data on their official agency websites. Open data is public information that is presented in a format that is
By posting open data, agencies provide information that citizens can download to analyze, assess, and evaluate. This practice must balance the desire for transparency with the requirement to protect confidentiality.
The 82nd Texas Legislature (Regular Session) enacted Senate Bill (SB) 701, effective September 1, 2011. This provision of law requires state agencies to post “high-value data sets” online. High-value data sets refers to public information that
- improves public knowledge of the agency and its operations
- furthers the core mission of the agency
- creates economic opportunity
- responds to need and demand as identified through public consultation
Value of Open Data
Both citizens and government will benefit from posting high-value data sets on state websites for public analysis and evaluation. Some benefits include
- increased public trust by allowing more visibility into operations
- expanded citizen engagement in government processes
- authenticated data sources that are official and state-endorsed
- reduced public information requests
- increased innovation by allowing third parties to create new uses with data sets
Local governments have realized the value of posting public data sets. Several have created opportunities that drive innovation through competitions, such as application contests for the developer community. Using the public data sets available on the government entity’s websites, developers build applications to present the data in a creative, effective, and consumable way.
Some examples include
- visually displaying digital data, such as aggregated bus schedules and maps, on top of a mobile camera panoramic view
- compiling volunteer opportunities based on location with an added registration form
- integrating and presenting 3-1-1 services in a mobile-ready format
- aggregating restaurant health grades based on location
The value of application contests is realized when there is a rich, robust, and varied pool of data for developers to use. These applications are typically developed at no cost to the government entity and are now widely available for citizens to download.
With or without application contests and other competitions, the availability of accessible, machine-readable, public data will promote opportunities for innovation that benefit both government and citizens.
The Path to Open Data
Transparency requires state agencies to make policy and operational decisions in how they acquire, classify, store, and disclose data beyond traditional records management criteria. Data classification is an important consideration. Agencies must take the appropriate steps to safeguard the privacy of citizens. All data posted by agencies must comply with privacy rules in 1 TAC 206.
The priority for agencies is to
- evaluate program areas
- determine high-value data sets
- design business processes to make publishing quick and simple in raw, usable formats
- develop internal policies and governance
- align resources to make efforts sustainable
Provisions of SB 701 specify that a state agency must post to its website each high-value data set if it determines that it can accomplish this with existing resources, at no additional cost to the state. If an agency is unable to meet this provision of law, it can
- enter into a contract advantageous to the state under which the contractor posts the data set on the agency website at no additional cost to the state
- receive a gift or grant specifically for the purpose of posting one or more of the agency's high-value data sets on its website
Additional provisions of SB 701 specify that
- The high-value data sets must be raw data in open standard format that allows the public to search, extract, organize, and analyze the information.
- The uniform resource locator (URL) to access the data must use the suffix “data,” as in, www.agency.texas.gov/data or www.agency.state.tx.us/data.
- The state agency home page, or other intuitive location accessible from the home page, must display a link to the data sets page, positioning the data sets page within two clicks from the agency’s home page.
Agencies should identify data sets that can easily be published online. Web administrators should work with business owners to develop the processes for identifying, publishing, and maintaining data sets online.