City Hall San Francisco.
Hoping to find any easy way to access and comprehend the quagmire that is San Francisco law? Well up until about a month ago this was not a possibility. The people of San Francisco did not have easy, comprehensive, or clear access to the laws they’ve been asked to abide by. Then came OpenGov, which is a movement focused around providing transparent, interactive, and viable means of engaging with government and law.
So it’s true that online access to the city’s legal code was has been available previously, but the argument for this new initiative is rooted in a need for formats that the wider populace and businesses can access and understand. The focus is also on taking this information, as well as the incredible amounts of civic data that has been accumulating for years, and using it to create innovative legal tools/data analysis.
A key component of this project is State Decoded, a free software facilitated by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is used to put legal code online. Waldo Jaquith, founder of State Decoded, pioneered the project and built a portal to access legal information – an API.
San Francisco’s Chief Information Officer, Jay Nath, and his team provided the raw texts of San Francisco’s laws for this project. OpenGov Foundation set up the website San Francisco Decoded and as you will see the site is still in Beta having only been active for less than a month. From what I can tell, the website is an impressive improvement on what was previously available. The site is easy to explore, comprehension comes easily, and the layout makes sense.
Along with the SF Decoded site, OpenGov is pushing people and businesses to try and do more with the information that is now so readily available. A good example of an application that OpenGov aspires to see more of is Nextbus, which is a website that takes city data and tells people when the next Muni bus will arrive at a particular stop. Another bigger picture goal is to see large cities sharing data amongst each other so analysis can be easily done on a national scale.
This spread of information and its increasing analysis could also have profound effects on the way people purchase homes. As more and more data is creatively processed people will gain further insight into things like – neighborhood crime rates, traffic, weather, and the like. An example of one such cursory study came September 9th, 2013. Gordon Wintrob and Peter Reinhardt took SFPD data from 2013 and showed how San Francisco hills affect crime rates. They pulled the numbers from a publicly available repository of crime data called DataSF and used it to creatively analyze city information.
What happens next with the OpenGov movement is only limited by ones imagination and ability to program (and considering that the Bay Area is a mecha of the modern tech age, there are more than enough aspiring programmers to take the challenge and run with it).
What are your thoughts on the web based modernization of civic laws and data?