By Deidre Henderson
Utah State Senator, District 7
This belongs to the people. The work of state and local government in the State of Utah belongs to the citizens of the State of Utah. In addition, I believe good transparency policies can lead to effective accountability and better government.
Anyone can file a GRAMA request. But what if the information being sought was easily accessible on a single, centralized, searchable resource hub? It would become obsolete, or at least less necessary, to file a GRAMA request at the appropriate government agency and pay a fee for staff to research and produce government documents that already belong to the public.
Utah has a strong freedom of information law in GRAMA. We are on the leading edge of technology in providing access to our public data. But some questions are worth asking:
Is there consistency in our handling of public data?
Is public data always easy to access?
Are we fully utilizing our existing hubs and online portals for sharing public data?
And most importantly, are we focused on growing a culture of efficiency, accountability, and best practices for making public data available online?
We need to standardize and modernize our open data procedures. A state portal already exists for financial data on Transparent.Utah.Gov. Now we need to take the next step. Working with former members of the GRAMA working group, state agencies, local technology experts, the Sunlight Foundation, and your input, we hope to build an effective and accountable open data standard for Utah, beginning with this simple set of principles:
1. Establish open formats
a. Define and standardize open formats for government data
b. Require any public information to be posted on the Internet
c. Remove restrictions on reuse of information
d. Appropriately safeguard sensitive information (as defined by GRAMA)
e. Require exemptions to open data policy to be balance-tested against the public interest (as currently defined by GRAMA)
2. Ensure open access
a. Create permanent, lasting access to government data
b. Publish bulk data
c. Create public APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for accessing information
d. Remove restrictions for accessing government information
3. Implement thoughtful systems
a. Create processes to ensure data quality
b. Create a public, comprehensive list of all information holdings
c. Define process for continuous publication and updates to data
d. Create new oversight authority to review implementation of the requirements
4. Require the publishing of metadata or other documentation
a. Utilize best practice considerations in crafting the plan for implementation of the bill itself and all its provisions
b. Set appropriately ambitious timelines for implementation
c. Ensure sufficient funding for implementation
d. Empower the creation of binding rules to implement the new policy
e. Incorporate public perspectives into policy implementation
f. Define process for future review for potential changes to this policy or law
5. Mandate the disclosure of specific new information (as defined by GRAMA)
a. Identify public data not currently made available online
b. Define and implement process for making additional public data available
c. Define timeline and benchmarks for accountability
d. Define best practices for implementation of e-filing processes
6. Encourage accountability
a. Recognize existing best practices of accountability, efficiency and openness
b. Review best practices and encourage broader implementation
c. Invite civic engagement
d. Build on existing public accountability policies to best utilize existing information hubs
e. Define and implement structural data standards and format review
An open data standard that includes these six provisions can reduce costs and unintended obstacles to obtaining information that already belongs to the people. Utah is positioned to lead the nation in innovation, dedication, efficiency and access to public data. Let’s take the next step.
I would sincerely appreciate your insight here in the comments or by contacting me directly.