Research: Cities can save time on records requests by doing open data right

Adopting an open data policy significantly reduces the number of public record requests that cities receive compared to cities that lack an open data policy. This was the major finding of a study I set out to conduct earlier this summer, to understand the relationship between the growth of open data policies and longstanding freedom of information laws. I found that while the average number of public records requests cities receive is growing significantly over time, cities could save time and money by passing an open data policy and investing in a robust open data program.

As a result of my research, I can say confidently that city officials should allocate resources to passing open data policies and building robust data portals in the face of a nationally increasing volume of public records requests. Access to information is a fundamental democratic right, and given that the benefits of providing proactive access to information brings positive benefits back to cities, it is clear that city officials should be proactively releasing open data that belongs in the public domain.

My initial research questions asked whether FOI and open data are siblings or silos. Through its work with cities across the U.S., Sunlight’s Open Cities team has heard definitively that cities with limited resources effectively wanted to provide citizens with timely and comprehensive access to public information. To do that, cities would have to understand the relationship between these two channels of public information.

To conduct this research, I collected 236,616 historical public record requests (PRRs) from 52 mid-sized cities across the US, dating back to October 2009. I analyzed whether adopting an open data policy significantly affected the number of monthly PRRs cities received and whether the robustness of a city’s open data program impacted the results. I also analyzed the text of 110,063 PRRs from the 33 cities in our sample that publish this information to understand what types of information are most commonly requested by citizens, and whether this changes when cities adopt an open data program.

Finding #1: Adopting an open data policy reduces the number of PRRs that cities receive (Read more…)