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Discussion: What can open data do for MN?

August 12, 2014 By Deb Balzer, Communications Director

The Minneapolis City Council recently passed an open data policy that opens the door for private citizens to access the city’s more than 450 government databases. This new policy both illustrates a shift in culture as well as expectations.

City Council Member Andrew Johnson has been a proponent of open data, as he told MinnPost: “The old models, the old way of doing things are no longer acceptable to a lot of folks."

What are the benefits of open data and how can it impact economic development?

What potential uses of open data are you most excited about?

Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson joined us this morning for a couple of hours. The conversation is open all day. We welcome your questions and invite you to join in the discussion!


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  • Rachel says:

    August 12, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Good morning! Council Member Johnson will join the conversation at 8. For now, please take a minute to post your questions or initial thoughts.

    What doors open when cities adopt open data policies?

  • Mike C says:

    August 12, 2014 at 7:44 am

    What’s the goals in doing this?

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 8:21 am

      There are several ways that this adds value:

      1) Helps the City achieve it’s goals. If we can empower individuals and community organizations to use information to, for instance, identify bad landlords, address homelessness, or increase community engagement, then it’s a win for the City. (The same day before we voted on the Open Data Policy, I had a request come in from a neighborhood association board member who wanted a list of all rental properties in the neighborhood so that they could reach out and do a better job engaging renters and encouraging more participation in the community—keep in mind, in many neighborhoods, people are color are overwhelmingly renters, so engaging them is also part of our racial equity work.)

      2) It fosters transparency and accountability. When people have easy access to data, they can look at it in different ways than it’s currently being looked at, and that can lead to changes in the way we do things to be more accountable as a local government. A great example is what happened with pothole repair data, which has led to a reevaluation of how we process and enter information ( or challenging the metrics used to measure the success of a 911 call center ( Just as police body cams lead to a massive reduction in claims, so too does putting your records out there… knowing that everyone can see them makes departments more mindful of what they’re doing and critics more cognizant that others can better validate and review their criticism.

      3) It saves City resources. The City expends a lot of time across many departments responding to Data Practice Act requests. Now we’ll be able to point folks to what they need far more often and save a lot of time that was spent putting together special requests.

      4) It enables economic value. Think of, which is a pretty awesome app that exists because of real-time data being made available from MetroTransit.

      Here’s some additional reasons:

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Hi everyone! I am Andrew Johnson, a member of the Minneapolis City Council who represents Ward 12, which is a mostly residential area of more than 30,000 residents in Southeast Minneapolis (think Minnehaha Falls). I also happen to be the first Millennial and IT Professional to serve on the Minneapolis City Council. One of my goals coming into office was to help implement an Open Data Policy and an Open Data Portal to truly bring about an unprecedented level of transparency, accountability, collaboration, and help the City better achieve it’s goals. Looking forward to answering your questions!

  • Steve Fletcher says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:09 am

    I’m curious what Andrew and others think about what data will have the biggest impact when it becomes more publicly accessible.  The examples I’ve seen most often used are traffic/potholes/street maintenance kind of issues, landlord/housing inspection data sets, and restaurant inspections.  Are those the right ones to focus on first as this rolls out, or are their others with strong community potential?

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 8:29 am

      We were very intentional to include the following departments in our Open Data Workgroup: Public Works, Health, Police, and Regulatory Services. That’s where you’re going to see the hottest data sets coming from, especially sets that can help address racial equity issues.

      Crime data is certainly the most popular set though, and interestingly enough you can already access a lot of info via a tool the MPD has put out there ( MN). However, that tool has some shortcomings. And freeing the data from that tool really enables developers to create new ways to look at it.

      Finally, one more prediction: The data of animal outcomes at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control will be one of the most requested sets to initially get on our portal.

  • Rachel says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:25 am

    From Kurtis Hanna, via Twitter:

    Can the ordinances & charter be posted in the new data portal in open formats rather than on a company’s website?
    Can data practices act responses be posted by default to the portal instead of only going to the requester?

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Great questions. I’ve asked about getting our ordinances and charter in an open format… it’s doable, but somewhat cumbersome of a process as it exists today. HOWEVER, when our new Legislative Management System is implemented around the start of the year, it will be far easier to do (per my understanding). So I expect that we can get this set up and running shortly after the Open Data Portal goes live (which will also be around the start of the year). On a side note, I am very interested in furthering the concept for a gitHub for legislation development, where we can collaborate, refine, and share with others to develop more common, usable, and well-rounded language for our laws… no sense in every municipality reinventing the wheel when we can instead work together!

      As for DPAs, the goal of the Open Data Policy is for those responding to DPA requests to seriously consider putting data on the portal whenever a DPA request is made. However, I believe it should really be case by case, because a lot of our systems will take some serious time to integrate their data into the portal (and in some cases it may make sense to put that energy towards planning the upgrade/replacement of a given system), and in other cases DPAs are very specific and it wouldn’t make sense to put the response to a request itself out there, only the larger data set if it’s not already on the portal.

  • Nick Stumo-Langer says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:30 am


    What do you see to be the biggest benefits of crowd-sourcing the data? Online rating systems like Yelp and Google Reviews are generally seen as being sub-par for evaluating places, how would an Open Data Policy work like this and how would it be different?

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 8:45 am

      The only aspect of crowd-sourcing I see involving the City, which is really the two-way aspect of data (i.e. Google puts out a listing for a restaurant and users fill in the hours and provide reviews), is having functionality for users to report errors/issues with City data. For instance, if we provided a list of rental properties in my ward, and one shows up in Richfield, a mechanism for a user of the Open Data Portal to draw attention to and get that fixed is crucial. In this way, the City is crowd-sourcing our data integrity by allowing others to catch issues and help us improve our data, which in turn improves our own operations.

  • Kyle says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:41 am

    What types of organizations do you think will be the biggest users of this data; or really, who is going to be using this data access?

    Also, what kind of infrastructure is needed to support an open connection platform to this data? Will there be support from the government side of things to support companies that have little in the way of IT support to access this data? A portal is one thing, but if I would need a large data dump in order to do high level qualitative/quantitative data studies. Is there support for this, or just a free for all?

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 8:51 am

      I think the biggest users will be individual programmers with an innovative idea and community organizations (think of the U of M’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Longfellow Community Council, Appetite for Change, etc.) who are working to solve problems in the community.

      The City has some big bandwidth going into our data center, and the platform will enable API connections to integrate real-time data. Beyond that, we won’t be providing any specific analytical tools aside from perhaps some simple visualization functionality (mapping and charting) similar to what is on the Chicago Open Data Portal (

  • Tim Gieseke says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Thank you Andrew - I would expect this new view to emerge from a Millennial! 

    A shift in culture, a shift in expectations is a shift in governance.  As my business attempted to develop an effective, respective and cost-efficient process to address ag-enviro issue during the last decade, it became apparent that a shared governance model was needed.  Society no longer works well with a hierarchical model, but does work well with a node-network system. 

    To use the term “wicked” problems to denote those on-going social issues - here is a brief presentation on how a “governance compass” provides the context for various members of society involved in addressing the community’s needs:

    I will view your links below to see if our thoughts/processes/apps are compatible.

    Tim Gieseke
    Lt. Gov Candidate IPM
    Hannah Nicollet for Governor

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Thanks Tim! I’ll check out the link.

  • Nick Stumo-Langer says:

    August 12, 2014 at 8:59 am

    In my personal opinion, the coolest aspect of this is that we can’t definitively say what the impact of this will be. Having and promoting an Open Data policy seems like it will change the way things can be done ineffably!

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Right on! It’s empowering and helps spur innovation… we should be intentionally passing more policies and legislation that do this!

  • Deb Balzer says:

    August 12, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Hi Andrew,

    What cities do you look to that are good examples of utilizing open data and why?


    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 9:14 am

      That’s a huge question. There are a lot of cities doing great things with open data. I like how proactive Chicago has been with getting so many data sets online:

      Here’s a couple cool tools based on open data as well, which I think is noteworthy because they’ve gone beyond providing just the data sets:

      In the long-run, I’d like to see a non-profit manage/administrate a website showcasing useful apps based on open data from Minneapolis, which the City can direct residents to. Such a setup would also prevent the City from being in the awkward position of having to pick and choose which tools and apps are listed (which otherwise could be a conflict of interest in some cases).

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    August 12, 2014 at 9:04 am

    How I personally have used open data…

    I created a website with a friend to provide taxpayers with a receipt showing where their dollars are spent, which makes it easier to relate to the federal budget (of all things!) Google loved the concept and wanted to partner up to find even more ways to visualize federal spending (

    And here’s the subsequent Google challenge to find ways to make federal spending more relatable:

    After we made a big splash with our website, the White House picked up on the idea and started developing a similar web app. President Obama highlighted the idea during a State of the Union address. You can find their version here:

  • Steve Fletcher says:

    August 12, 2014 at 9:05 am

    When I was previewing this conversation on AM 950 last night, I promised I’d ask you the questions I couldn’t answer about implementation.  They were: How soon will we start to see increased access to data, and what kind of IT investment is this requiring of the city?  Is there a new data department, or increased IT staff within each department?

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      August 12, 2014 at 9:31 am

      1) We’ll have the portal up before the end of the year!

      2) No additional IT requests in the budget for this. In the long-run, we’re expecting that the portal and bandwidth may end up around $50k/yr. As for staff time required, the answer is that we don’t know… it varies so much by data set and each department has some leeway to implement at a pace that works within their staffing constraints. This enables the department leaders who embrace open data to become the champions of this initiative and work better through it (which will lead by example and help get other department leaders on board). There’s also an annual compliance report which will help us understand if any departments are lagging behind. And then of course… by putting data out there, departments will deal with fewer DPA requests, so there’s the time it saves departments which will offset the time it takes to put data online, along with the value of helping to better achieve their goals… it’s not something readily quantifiable, but overall we believe it will save far more money (and add far more value) than it will cost.