Open Data in Texas Brings Transparency Outside, Efficiency Inside

Municipal Government

Open Data in Texas Brings Transparency Outside, Efficiency Inside

The Data Coalition hosted its first-ever Texas Data Demo Day, sponsored by Grant Thornton and in partnership with Open Austin, on Wednesday, May 10th, in downtown Austin. The event highlighted the ongoing work of state and municipal leaders as they maximize transparency outside government and improve efficiency inside, by standardizing and publishing their data.

Speakers included Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Texas Department of Information Resources Statewide Coordinator Ed Kelly; GSA Technology Transformation Service Assistant Commissioner Sarah Crane; Texas Department of State Health Services, Center for Health Data Services Director Dr. Lisa Wyman; City of Austin Chief Performance Officer Kim Olivares; and Open Austin Brigade Captain Mateo Clarke.

These open data leaders told us: community is key to their work.

In his keynote speech, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar summarized the benefits and uses of open data inside and outside: “We’ve come to see that greater transparency breeds greater efficiency [both] internally and externally.” But even when an agency is “rich in data,” it is a constant struggle to make public information “understandable, readable, and searchable.” It’s a lot of work, requiring the support of a community of practice and users both inside and outside.

At the Texas Data Demo Day, we heard how individuals at the state, local, and federal levels are working together to support the open data transformation in Texas. is Texas’s “Open Data Portal”, providing access to raw open data sets – financial and otherwise – that visitors can use to create custom filters, charts, and maps. It is managed by Comptroller Hegar’s office and the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR). According to both Comptroller Hegar and DIR Statewide Coordinator Ed Kelly, who joined our State Panel, has significantly cut down on the number of public information requests (PIR) processed through these offices.

At the state level, DIR estimated that it took around $4.5 million for agencies to respond to PIRs. “Sometimes, citizens don’t know what they don’t know. So, one PIR will lead to another and another,” said Mr. Kelly. Open data, he argued, now allows citizens to follow lines of inquiries without pulling from staff time to satisfy the inquiries. When the state moved information to digital platforms, citizens could make requests online. “That’s time, efficiency, and money!”

The State’s open data portals have streamlined public information requests and facilitated a new norm of expectations for state offices to be public-facing and accessible.

Municipalities, in turn, have been able to take advantage of their open data grassroots. When the Austin City Council passed its Open Government Resolution (No. 20111208-074) in December 2011, city employees had been working with local coders and data professionals to build the city’s information website. This type of collaboration came at the behest of local groups like Open Austin, who saw the potential benefits of making open data accessible, but recognized that the city had limited resources. Thus, data-minded professionals offered their time and service to help build the tools the city needed for its open data website.

From left to right: Dr. Lisa Wyman; Ed Kelly; Sarah Crane; and Douglas Doerr

During our Municipal Panel discussion, Austin Chief Performance Officer Kim Olivares and Open Austin Brigade Captain Mateo Clarke recalled past collaborations and praised present relationships between the city and its citizens. Ms. Olivares emphasized that having a team dedicated to open data and strong relationships with community liaisons, like Mr. Clarke, have improved communications and response time to intermittent issues across the city. “The desire to build a relationship with the community, first, is really important” when assessing the uses and context of data, noted Ms. Olivares. Having data for data’s sake isn’t sustainable; you have to know what issues and questions you are trying to address.

“Data is liberating… open data is transformative,” remarked co-founder and Coalition board member Brett Hurt at the close of the event. From what audience members heard at the Texas Data Demo Day, from federal, state, local, and community leaders, such a transformation takes a village.

We know this on the federal level as our open data efforts continue in Washington – and we were encouraged to see community-driven progress in Texas!

View all the photos from the event here.