San Francisco makes open data city policy

SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)
SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)

Today, open data and its power to transform a city and a nation by engaging tech savvy citizens will be on display at San Francisco City Hall. And just as importantly, companies that have been successful because of forward thinking open data policies will testify to our elected leaders about its importance. As a founder of one of these sustainable companies, Appallicious, I am proud to be speaking on behalf of the open data movement.

After hearing testimony from myself and others in the open data industry, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will review and vote on new legislation that will strengthen the city’s open data initiatives and allow San Francisco to appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to manage the City’s open data efforts.

More than three years ago the City of San Francisco launched, the city’s one-stop shop for government data. San Francisco was the first city to follow the federal government’s open government effort, when it launched Since then, more than 70 apps have been developed for city residents by civic innovators and companies– countless other cities and towns have been inspired to follow San Francisco’s lead and have enacted similar policies, providing residents with greater accessibility to government data.

San Francisco’s open data efforts have helped spur the creation of apps for citizens that makes it easier for residents to receive government services, actively participate in city policy and have saved the city a substantial amount of money. Behind these open data apps are new, civically minded companies, and a new industry that is starting to emerge in the land of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  Companies like Appallicious100PlusRoutesy, and Zonability, that would not have been possible just a couple years ago are popping up in cities all over the country supported by amazing organizations like Code For America.

Back in October 2012, I was proud to join San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor David Chiu and San Francisco Rec & Park GM Phil Ginsburg as they introduced the revised open data legislation. These Gov 2.0 leaders used the event to highlight companies like Appallicious that are using open data to create apps and re-imagine our city. They launched the San Francisco Rec & Park app that Appallicious created using over 1,000 datasets for parks, playgrounds, and dog parks, along with transportation datasets so residents can get directions to all of the City’s attractions. All of these datasets are available on

The SF Rec & Park app makes it easy for anybody to find city parks, playgrounds, museums, picnic tables, gardens, restrooms, news and events and more in the palm of your hand. Information is displayed with descriptions and pictures on a GPS enabled mobile map.

The SF Rec & Park app, which was recently named by Mashable as one of 7 open data apps every city should have, also will soon make it easier for residents to make reservations for a soccer field or picnic table, or apply for a permit when they need to host an event in a public park. All of this will be available through a mobile device or on the web, saving taxpayers and government workers time and money. No longer will you have to wait on hold or send multiple emails to confirm a picnic table reservation for a birthday party.

Open data apps like this are only the beginning of something much bigger that is being made possible by open data policies and government leaders that get its importance.

On his first day as President, Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government to spur innovation at the Federal level for private sector development. This move inspired progressive cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia to create their own open data legislation at the local level.  This has led to an emergent new industry, unparalleled innovation, job creation, revenue, and collaboration between government and the private sector not seen since President Reagan’s decision to open up the Global Positioning System in the 1980s.

Organizations like Code for America and Citizenville, as well as private companies like Appallicious and the SF Rec & Park app are living, breathing examples of the new industry first created by President Reagan in the 1980s and rejuvenated by President Obama.

Stay tuned, a whole new industry is starting to take form powered by open data on a local level, creating jobs, revenue, and never before seen citizen and government.

If your city is new to the open data movement, please ask your elected leaders to take the Citizenville Challenge and bring open data policies and innovation to your community. And take a second to support the open data movement by applauding Appallicious’ submission to the Knight Foundation News Challenge and others that are transforming the way government and citizens engage and communicate.

Corrections: “Open Government Act” was changed to “memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.” Reference to “Open GPS” was changed to “Global Positioning System.”

I am a seasoned innovator, entrepreneur, and start-up adviser with a passion for government and technology. I took my passion for government and over 15 years of experience in technology, marketing, finance, non-profits, and sustainable development to create a first-of-its-kind mobile commerce platform for government, Appallicious.


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