The city’s incipient open-data program was put on hold by Mayor Dewey Bartlett in February but is expected to be rebooted in early August, city officials said this week.
Work on the data-sharing program, formally known as the Open Tulsa Initiative, was temporarily halted by the mayor after security concerns were raised by city staff, said City Manager Jim Twombly.
“There were some concerns about data sets that we were looking to put out there — not a problem with any one data set — but that if you put out multiple data sets, that if you were to go from one to another you could put together information about individuals or companies,” Twombly said. “So if you kind of cross-referenced from one data set to another you could find out information about individuals or groups.”
Those concerns have yet to be addressed because the program’s director has been out of the office on leave, city officials said.
Once the director, Penny Macias, returns next month, work on the program will continue and meetings of the Open Data Advisory Board will resume. In the meantime, the data that was placed online before the program was halted remains accessible to the public, said city spokeswoman Kim MacLeod.
“We just put the brakes on it for a short time; we didn’t stop it altogether,” MacLeod said. “It just needed to be regrouped, and when Penny is back we will be able to talk more about where we are.”
The city is in the process of identifying which data sets can be made accessible to the public and in what format, MacLeod said, and that discussion centers on more than security.
“It’s just a matter of making sure when we look at all the data that we are going about it in the right way. That is really all,” MacLeod said.
Government data-sharing programs have been growing in popularity across the country over the past decade, encouraged by organizations like Code for Tulsa, a civic-hacking group that has worked with city officials to establish the city’s Open Tulsa program.
The Open Tulsa Initiative and others like it are intended to improve transparency by making data more easily accessible to the public. In August 2015, Tulsa was the eighth city selected to take part in the Bloomberg Philanthropies program to help midsize cities access data for use by their residents.
Groups like Code for Tulsa and Civic Ninjas say they could use data provided by the city to create apps that Tulsans could use for such things as finding parking spaces or accessing public safety information. Another example, currently under development for Tulsa County, is an app that would allow the public to access court information and pay citations by text message.
Luke Crouch, a Code for Tulsa organizer, said Thursday that he understands and supports the need to ensure that data are kept secure but questioned why the city hasn’t moved forward to address the issue.
“Instead of actually doing the work, they just stopped it,” Crouch said.
MacLeod said the delay does not reflect a lack of support for the program by Bartlett.
“He is committed to it,” MacLeod said.
The City Council, led by Mayor-elect G.T. Bynum, passed a resolution in May 2013 supporting the creation of an open and accessible data system. Nearly two years later, in December 2015, Bartlett issued an executive order establishing the open-data program.
Bynum said Friday that he has already begun meeting with the coder community in preparation for taking office in December and that he plans to make the Open Data initiative a priority of his administration.
“This is one of those areas that we can be a national leader,” Bynum said. “One, because it’s such a new area, but two, we have tremendous grassroots expertise in the community that wants to help in our civic coder community here.”
The data-sharing program, Bynum says, gives community-minded people the opportunity “to deliver better end products than we could ever think of or develop as a city government.”