As an advocate for free access to government data, I was glad to hear about the City and County of Honolulu’s newly launched online transparency initiative, “Citizens Analyzing Numbers Discover Opportunity” (or CAN-DO). Indeed, based on the “About” and “FAQ” pages, the CAN-DO site seems to demonstrate a clear understanding of some of the problems and concerns that have come up in previous debates over access to government data.
“The City & County of Honolulu’s goal is to provide the public with an unprecedented amount of access to information previously unavailable from prior administrations,” the site explains. “Greater public awareness will ultimately lead to better decisions.”
Phrases like “free service,” ”raw government data,” and “downloadable, usable format[s]” are music to my ears.
The question is whether the launch of CAN-DO means the city is singing a different song than we heard last year, when the city fought requests for employee names, titles and salaries.
The CAN-DO site notes that some of its data was already available, but was not easy to find or download. With greater access, people can analyze trends, compare agencies, or even develop “complex analytical models” that might unveil new solutions to old problems. More geeky users, meanwhile, can use the data to create “innovative apps“ — apps that the CAN-DO site says will hopefully be “shared amongst fellow citizens.”
That phrasing sounds like the city might discourage, but not stop, someone from making money off a web or mobile app that uses city data. The overall “Terms of Service” don’t explicitly forbid commercial use, but they do say that each data set can come with separate terms.
Of course, keeping the raw data online for free will mean that anyone hoping to charge for it will have to offer significantly more value in presenting or interpretating the information.
At present, you can look up and download the city budget into a spreadsheet (which is a significant improvement over the previous practice of dumping kludgy PDFs on the web), as well as several “Disclosure of Financial Interest” forms filed by key city officials. Not much, perhaps, but the site promises that more data is coming, and accepts requests for information and feedback on “what datasets or other information you’d like to see.”
And yes, I’ve already suggested that CAN-DO include a list of all city job titles and salaries. I noted that including employee names would be nice, but probably a completely different can of worms.
I’ve added a link to CAN-DO to the Hawaii Open Data Project, and I doubt I’ll be alone in keeping an eye on CAN-DO and what city information is — or is not — included. But it’s a promising start at the city level, especially given how hairy things have gotten for transparency in state government under Gov. Neil Abercrombie.