Open Data, Open Source, and the City of Portland

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"As a city that values openness and innovation, Portland is proud to host GOSCON this year." - Mayor Sam Adams

Editors' Note: This article was originally posted on the GOSCON (Government Open Source Conference) website

For the next segment of our pre-conference interview series, we've turned to our host city, Portland, Oregon, for more details on its release of open data, use of open source and support of citizen engagement software projects. In this interview, we're bringing you a variety of voices from the ranks of Portland's public servants, from both the Mayor's Office and the Bureau of Technology Services

We understand that the City of Portland was the first in the United States to adopt a formal policy in support of opening data to outside developers and adopting open source solutions in technology procurement. What prompted the creation of this official policy?

Mayor Sam Adams: We have a world-class open source software community here in Portland, and we wanted to adopt a policy that would help make it easier for members of this community to take advantage of public sector contract opportunities and contribute to innovative projects. We therefore decided to adopt a procurement policy that placed open source software on an equal footing with commercial software.

Skip Newberry, Economic Development Policy Advisor to Mayor Sam Adams: We had been tracking Washington D.C.’s Apps for Democracy and, at the federal level, the launch of, for some time before we decided to launch an open data project of our own. Prior to these initiatives, many people viewed the massive amounts of public data collected by government as having little or no value. By opening up public data, we saw an opportunity to make local government more efficient, transparent, accessible, and collaborative. From an economic development perspective, we viewed open data as an abundant raw material that, in skilled hands, could be transformed into a valuable asset with real social and economic benefits.

How does the City of Portland benefit by participating in the open source community? Using open source technologies?

Mark Greinke, Chief Technology Officer, City of Portland: The Portland region is at the epicenter of the Open Source Software industry, with leading foundations, businesses, and professionals located in and around Portland. Portland city government has a long standing culture of openness and inclusion. Our participation with the Open Source community allows us to collaboratively solve problems that not just Portland is facing, but are also being faced by municipal governments throughout the world. There are incredibly innovative Open Source solutions that are solving real world problems. We’re using them at the City of Portland to allow citizens to more effectively engage and interact with City government and to monitor our mission critical networks and systems.

What are some of the data sets opened for the Portland metro area? Can you tell us about the results of this effort?

Rick Nixon, Project Manager, Bureau of Technology Services, City of Portland: There are over 120 regional datasets available from various government agencies including the City of Portland, Metro, TriMet, the State of Oregon, and others ranging from metro area transit and 911 call-outs to heritage trees and vegetation. Opening this data for public access has resulted in a call to action with citizens to improve the accessibility of available formats, in addition to interpreting and combining the data in new and unanticipated ways.

What was the genesis of the CivicApps contest? Can you discuss some of the applications that have been developed?

Rick Nixon: Similar to predecessor events such as Washington DC’s “Apps for Democracy”, the Ideas and Applications contest serves as a centerpiece feature to showcase the available datasets. As an essential part of the much broader effort surrounding Civic Apps for Greater Portland, the contest portion of this regional initiative was planned and executed by members of the local software community, including business leaders, open source developers, academics, community organizers, and others. The result has been to recognize and reward as many innovative ideas and apps as possible, while promoting open source solutions available for all to use and potentially build off of. Interesting applications resulting from the contest include the open sourcing of PDX Bus, an existing and sophisticated app supporting transit information to the public. Also noteworthy is the PDX API which makes available all CivicApps datasets in a ready-to-use REST-like query format for application developers to leverage.

What do you personally hope to take home with you from GOSCON? How does the conference align with Portland area’s goals with regards to open data and open source?

Skip Newberry: I look forward to learning about some of the innovative open source and open data initiatives underway in other cities. In particular, I am interested in exploring opportunities for collaboration.

Mark Greinke: Open Source is a platform that effectively enables collaboration and interactive communities. Attending GOSCON allows us to collectively share our tremendous experiences and talents in solving problems that benefit all our communities. I am extremely excited to learn how our peers are leveraging open source solutions and to share with the community some of the innovative things Portland is doing around Open Source and Open Data.

Ed. Note: Our thanks to Padraic for the image of Pioneer Courthouse. The image is available for use under a Creative Commons license.

Deborah Bryant pic
Deb Bryant | Deb is Senior Director, Open Source Program Office at Red Hat, where she and her team champions the company's stewardship open source communities.

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