Previously, much of the data was kept in information silos within separate agencies, where public access was limited. The new initiative represents a targeted effort by all of the City-Parish departments to work together, reduce those data silos and embrace technology as a tool to make government more efficient, effective and accessible.
The first phase of the Open Data initiative, available today, includes data sets such as fire and police data, employee salaries and detailed property information. Additional data sets will be added to the platform while existing ones will be maintained and updated. “Our eventual goal is to create an open government at all levels by publishing each and every City-Parish data point that may be of public interest,” Mayor Holden said. The Open Data BR initiative, led by the Mayor’s Department of Information Services, also follows the recommendations in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge Grant last year.
“When IBM sent in its team of experts to study Baton Rouge and recommend how to improve our internal operations, one of the main points they kept going back to was data – both improving how we manage our data and how we then support the public’s interaction with it,” said Interim Information Services Director Eric Romero. “While we were already working on this effort, IBM’s recommendations served as validation that we were on the right track.”
Over the past year, Romero and his staff studied a number of other cities that are leaders in the “open data” movement, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Raleigh. In many instances, software developers in these areas have used this new level of access to data to produce applications with a civic or public-sector focus.
“We believe this initiative will serve as a catalyst to engage the software development community to leverage our data – provided at no cost to the public – and work with us to develop technology-based solutions to public-sector problems,” said Romero.
In other cities, developers have utilized data from a number of public sources such as new building permits and new business licenses to build websites that are useful for new residents or new businesses. Other applications use city data to track which streets have been cleared of snow during major snow events. In Baton Rouge, similar technology could be used during emergency situations such as heavy rain, icy road conditions and hurricanes, when knowing the real-time availability of key roadways can mean the difference between life and death.