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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs an open data executive order on Friday at Impact HUB in downtown Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray today signed an executive order that instructs city departments to make their data more accessible to the public.

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Mayor Ed Murray.

The new open data policy was developed by city IT staff with help from the University of Washington and the Sunlight Foundation to help make data about everything from homelessness to local parks more easily available online.

“As a city, we view open data as more than just a window into the city operations — we view it as a valuable tool,” Murray said today at Impact HUB.

The mayor noted that the city “doesn’t have capacity to solve all problems,” and he hopes that entrepreneurs and engineers will utilize the data to help government come up with solutions to improve the quality of life for Seattleites.

“We look forward to the opportunity not just for transparency, but for creativity and partnership,” added Murray, who talked about the new policy during his State of the City address earlier this month.

Candace Faber, Civic Technology Advocate with the City of Seattle.
Candace Faber, Civic Technology Advocate with the City of Seattle.

The executive order asks all cabinet-level city departments to provide a certain amount of data in a format the public can understand. Each department will have an “open data champion” who will be accountable for maintaining an updated data catalog, with information that can be published in a machine-readable format.

The mayor noted that the policy will also help the city “measure outcomes.”

“The ability to collect data, measure it, and make it available to the public holds us accountable, but also allows us to decide which programs aren’t working and where we should re-deploy money,” Murray said.

Privacy is also a key part of the open data policy, as the city will review all datasets for privacy considerations prior to publishing.

 (Kurt Schlosser, GeekWire)
(Kurt Schlosser, GeekWire)

Candace Faber, the city’s new civic technology advocate, said that the goal is to have 544 available data sets online by the end of 2016, which would be an increase of 75 from the end of 2015.

“Passing this policy and signing this executive order is a huge step, but it is not the final step,” Faber said today. “We in the IT department still have a lot of work to do, and other departments have to think about how this policy is going to integrate with their existing workflows.”

Publicly-available government data has helped spur the formation of tech giants like Zillow, the Seattle-based online real estate company. Last year, Zillow co-founder Rich Barton noted how the idea for Zillow’s Zestimate tool, which estimates the value of every home in the country, came about because of open data.

Stan Humphries was able to write that algorithm because we had access to public data — what people paid for a home and the tax assessment of that home was deemed to be public information,” Barton said.

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Annika Haggelin, a Code Fellows student, shows off her project, Seattle Parks Finder.

At Friday’s event, the city invited a handful of citizens who are already utilizing public data to create innovative solutions. Here were the presenters and their projects:

  • Nick Bolten, University of Washington student (Access Map)
  • Ethan Phelps Goodman, Seattle in Progress (Seattle in Progress)
  • Annika Haggelin, Code Fellows student (Seattle Parks Finder)
  • Alex Gringas, University of Washington student/Microsoft Civic Engagement Fellow (SPS Interactive)
  • Selena Flannery-Logg + team, Code Fellows student (HoofIt)
  • Jacob Caggiano, Smarter Cleanup (Hey Duwamish)
  • Shelly Farnham, Third Place Technologies (Spokin)
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