Open Data

Slides for this presentation are at:

Alan Palazzolo

Interactive News Developer at MinnPost

Open Twin Cities

A group of civic hackers, technologists, public servants, and community leaders for the Twin Cities focused on improving the technology of our cities.

Open Data is open to anyone and free to use.

"A piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike."

via Open Definition

Minnesota Data Practices Act (DPA)

Chapter 13

All government data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by a government entity shall be public unless classified by statute, or temporary classification pursuant to section 13.06, or federal law, as nonpublic or protected nonpublic, or with respect to data on individuals, as private or confidential. The responsible authority in every government entity shall keep records containing government data in such an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use.

Statute 13.03 Subdivision 1 (Public data)

Sweet, all we have to do is ask!


Knowing who to ask.

Asking for permission and the dynamics of people and power.

Knowing what data is available.

Knowing what data is private and non-confidential.

Analysis and reports vs. raw data.

Crafting letters and knowing the law. Friendly vs. legal.

There's a whole government agency to help both residents and other government agencies understand it.

Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD)

Some lessons

This can be ideal for journalism.

And so starts our long journey into trying to get incident data from Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).

Dozens of emails.

Hours on the phone.

$500 for 10 years of data.

10 years of very shallow data.

Open Data is data accessibility in the digital age.

DPA was first written in the 70s.

Digital copies are exact and essentially free.

Databases are easy to export.

The internet is mostly prevalent and an excellent distribution system.

The MPD is way ahead of you.

There were 10 robberies in the Wellford neighborhood in the month of October, 2013.

Goes back 10 years!

Open Data is free ($$).

Open Data non-discriminatory access.

Open Data is without restriction of use.

In Excel (multiple versions).

Open Data uses common, open standards.

Microsoft Excel is a proprietary application file, not an open, data format.

PDF and MS Word are not open or a data format. Search interfaces are not a data format.

Inconsistent formatting.

Open Data is structured and machine-readable.

Machine-readable means a computer can easily read and process the data. JSON, CSV, XML.

No incidents for a month = no row of data.

Open Data is complete.

Neighborhoods combined in 1996.

Open Data is a converstaion.

The data is released some time after the end of the month.

Open Data is timely.

Stale data is bad for both the government and users of the data.

Still, we were able to get most of our dashboard done before we recieved the quote to get incident data directly from the MPD.

After launch we saw the data updates disappear.

(But it came back up after asking about it.)

Open Data is permanent.

The ability to link to data with consistent and reasonable URLs.

Open Data is not about privacy

(to me).

Privacy is a very important and political aspect of the data that is collected and shared.

Open Data is more concerned with accessibilty than with the public right to data.

Asking for it and downloading it are access mechanisms, not levels of privacy or security.

What is Open Data good for?


Open Data increases transparency to our governments.


Alleviates need for fulfilling requests both to residents and inter-agency requests.


Data is collected to aid in decision making.

Open Data helps to inform everyone in order to make their own decisions.

This leads to more civic participation, innovation, analysis, and economic development.

Not too shabby.

But still no data.

Allows for limited views into the data and limited information on how to make decisions.

What does Open Data look like?

Open Data policies.

Hennepin and Ramsey County will sign an Open GIS Data policy tomorrow.

Data portals.

Hackathons and other community engagement.

Independent analysis.

Websites and applications.

Data corrections.

Data updates.

That's right, Open Data is read AND write.

Not just government.




Code for slides are on Github.