Portland launches open data initiative, CivicApps contest

The city of Portland is working to open its data and foster citizen driven innovation through two initiatives announced last week. CivSource spoke with Rick Nixon, program manager with the City of Portland Bureau of Technology Services, on the two programs and what they mean for Portland’s technology community.

As with other initiatives, the Open Data Initiative (ODI) is an effort to promote increased transparency and openness in local government by offering data sets to the public for research and development. The city has asked for cooperation from a number of agencies in order to provide a broad array of data.

They’ve also announced their support for open source data and standards. As such, everything released will be in machine readable formats for easier use. Nixon noted, “we had the benfit of seeing how similar initiatives went before in terms of formatting and we wanted to manage those issues.”

Although following the same contest format as other cities, Portland’s CivicApps will be unique. City offices such as TriMet, its public transportation system, have already been releasing maps and data sets so much of the data release process was already in place. Portland also has an open data portal available for public use. Additionally, the city is getting help from a local group of volunteers already interested in these issues and who have varied technology backgrounds.

So far, they’ve had a solid response from the public. Ideas and apps are starting to develop and they’ve seen about 50,000 tweets pushing users to the CivicApps page.

As for the long term vision for these initiatives, Nixon noted that the city hopes that after the contest ends, development will go forward and be self-sustaining. Nixon hopes that through yearly events Portland will be able to maintain interest in development and foster long term support from the local technology community. The city wants to “push innovation to the citizenry and empower them to deal with their own issues.”

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