When is the right time for a policy?

While we have developed a policy template as part of the open council data toolkit, it is important to acknowledge that different policy approaches may work for different councils.

As Code for America explains:

“In some cities, an open data policy is the first step towards open data. Passing the policy creates an executive mandate that drives momentum … In other cities, the policy actually follows implementation of open data … [A]fter you have demonstrated value to leadership, passing a policy can be a finishing touch to establish formal, ongoing commitment.”

How should the policy look?

Policies can also take different forms depending on their intended audience and purpose. The open council data template policy is intended as an operational document rather than a political statement or legal instrument. However, there are examples where open data policies have taken a more political or legal tone, particularly in the US.

The following video discusses the situation in Philadelphia City, where the council issued an open data Executive Order following council efforts to implement open data practices.

Video licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (United States).

Sometimes, if a council issues a legal or political instrument requiring the release of open data, there will be an underlying operational document to help guide the implementation phase, as with this 2012 policy from New York City.

Benefits of a Policy

Putting timing and format aside, most commentators (including Code for America and Socrata) agree that there are benefits that come with implementing an open data policy. Socrata notes that the benefits of a well-articulated policy include:

  • providing a basis for funding ongoing open data initiatives
  • knowledge management for future employees
  • ongoing impetus to continue with open data activities

It can also be useful to embed open data principles in related council policies, such as data management programs or strategic plans (see this Council Plan 2013-17 from the City of Melbourne which incorporates transparency and this draft digital strategy from Ballarat which references open data). Embedding open data concepts in this way can help increase the awareness of open data across different business units.

Example Policies

A growing number of Victorian local governments are developing or have completed their own open data policies. Some of these are available publicly, while others are internal documents. The following are two quite diverse open data policies at the Victorian local government level:

City of Melbourne Open Data Principles

Hobson’s Bay Open Data Access Policy

The open council data policy template has been developed taking into account other internal policy documents that have not yet been publicly released by councils. Together with the template, the above examples can be used as a guide for councils developing their first open data policy.

In addition, we are aware of the following policy documents at the State and Federal level which some councils may find useful:

NSW Government Open Data Policy – NSW

Open Data Strategies – Qld

Action Plan to Advance Open Data – SA

Declaration of Open Data – SA

DataVic Access Policy – Vic

Whole of Government Open Data Policy – WA

Further Resources

Developing Your Open Data Policy – Socrata

Open Data Policy Guidelines – Sunlight Foundation

US Open Data Action Plan