US City Open Data Census

The first step in making data actionable is to make sure the data is easily accessible. Many cities, whether they have an open data policy in place or not, have work to do in terms of making datasets open and available online. Do an evaluation of where your city stands on releasing our landscape of datasets openly and work with your municipal partners to come up with a plan for making all of them open and available.

Review the guidance below and then submit information about your city's data here. Any information about the ease with which you were able to find the data is worth noting in the additional comments field at the bottom of the form.

For more news about the US City Open Data Census, look out for the Sunlight Foundation's Census blog posts.

Resources and Guidance

Review the list of datasets (found at the bottom of this page) and see if your city makes these datasets easily available online as open data. These datasets serve as a construct of how to open local government data. For more examples, see resources from Code for America and the Sunlight Foundation. If you are a city official, more information on the Census may be found here.

You should start by looking to see if your city has an open data portal. If so, all of these datasets should be published there. If not, your city may still have a repository of datasets stored on its website. If you can’t find a central repository, try doing an Internet search for each of the datasets.

OpenPrism is a tool that aggregates many open data portal datasets, and you can use it to compare your city’s datasets to other cities, as well as to see what data other cities provide that your city doesn’t.

In some cases, the city is not the entity responsible for a dataset (for example, in Tulsa there is an independent authority responsible for the transit system). That’s ok—we still want to know if and where those datasets are published, because all residents should have open access to local datasets regardless of which agency collects and controls the dataset publication. Be sure to note if it’s a non-city entity publishing the data.

If your city publishes all of these datasets as "open data," give each other a round of high-fives! Then, if you're especially motivated about open data, follow the Sunlight Foundation's open data blog, or design and prototype an app or integration that would make this data useful for citizens.

Next Steps

Once you have an inventory together, work with your city partners to figure out what barriers stand in the way of making any missing datasets open and accessible online and discuss solutions to overcoming those barriers. Work with government to create a timeline tool or alerts for when data will be released. See New York City’s Open Data Dashboard and Philadelphia’s use of Trello for inspiration on creating a timeline.

If your city is making all this data available, now is the time to start thinking about what questions can be answered or problems addressed with these datasets. Take a look at what other cities are doing with key datasets. Are there lessons to be learned for your city?

To take this project a step further, you can pick an issue area of particular concern to your city (crime or blight, for example) and do an inventory of all datasets related to that issue. Then work with issue-area experts from the community to determine what potential value those datasets might have for addressing the problem, or what datasets are missing that would be particularly valuable. You can also look at the "example data use" entries in our Dataset Explainers for more ideas of how open data can be used.

Share Your Findings

Now's the time to share what you've learned! Complete the US City Open Data Census for your city with the datasets listed below, so that the US municipal open data community can learn from each others' best practices.


Dataset Details
Asset Disclosure Top-level government officials’ financial assets. (More info)
Budget Municipal budget at a high level (e.g., spending by sector, department, etc). This category is about budgets which are plans for expenditure (not actual expenditure in the past). (More info)
Business Listings A directory of all licensed businesses in the municipal area, including key information such as name, address, contact information, and business type. (More info)
Campaign Finance Contributions Amount contributed to each candidate and by whom. (More info)
Code Enforcement Violations Building code inspection data surfacing reports on particular properties from code enforcement officials. (More info)
Construction Permits Locations of issued construction permits. (More info)
Crime City crime report data, preferably at a reasonably disaggregated level. (More info)
Lobbyist Activity Actions of named registered lobbyists. (More info)
Procurement Contracts The full text of municipal contracts with vendors, including amount, awardee (name, address), and date awarded. (More info)
Property Assessment Data about assessed property values. (More info)
Property Deeds The recording of property sales, mortgages, and foreclosures. See your local Registry/Recorder of Deeds. (More info)
Public Buildings Locations of city-owned buildings. (More info)
Restaurant Inspections Outcomes of food safety inspections of restaurants and other similar providers of food to the public. (More info)
Service Requests (311) Non-emergency service requests (which some cities facilitate by dialing 3-1-1), covering issues such as: graffiti, non-working traffic lights, noise complaints, parking law enforcement, and potholes. Data should be at a granular (per request) level. (More info)
Spending Records of actual (past) municipal spending at a detailed transactional level; for example, at the level of month to month expenditure on specific items (usually this means individual records of spending amounts at a fairly granular level - e.g., $5-50k rather than at the $1m+ level). Note: a database of contracts awarded or similar is not considered sufficient. This data category refers to detailed ongoing data on actual expenditures. (More info)
Transit Timetables (schedules), locations of stops, and real-time location information of all municipally run or commissioned transit services (buses, subway, rail, tram, etc). (More info)
Zoning (GIS) The mapped zone (GIS) shapefiles of designated permitted land use in your city. (More info)
Web Analytics Overall traffic stats, page-level traffic stats, site search logs, and browser-agent breakdowns from your city’s primary web property. (More info)