City of Buffalo Open Data Policy

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City of Buffalo Open Data Policy

City of Buffalo Open Data Policy

WHEREAS , the City of Buffalo (the "City") is committed to fostering an open, efficient, accountable, and accessible government; and

WHEREAS , timely and consistent publication of public information and data is an essential component of such governance; and

WHEREAS , the adoption of an open data policy will improve the provision of citizen services, enhance coordination and efficiency among and between City departments, divisions, and partner organizations, and increase opportunities for civic engagement and economic development; and

WHEREAS , making public data available online for reuse and consumption creates value for residents, government leaders, businesses, researchers, and the media, and facilitates the proactive provision of information currently sought through Freedom of Information Law requests; and

WHEREAS , an open data program is crucial to providing opportunity for all and improving the City's relationship with vulnerable communities; and

WHEREAS , information technologies, including web-based and other Internet applications and services, are an essential means for Open Government, and good government generally; and

WHEREAS , the protection of privacy, confidentiality and security will be maintained as a paramount priority while also advancing the government's transparency and accountability through open data.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Byron W. Brown, Mayor of the City of Buffalo, New York, by virtue of the executive and administrative authority vested in me by the Charter of the City of Buffalo and the statutes and laws of the State of New York, do hereby direct and order as follows:


"Data" means non-privileged and non-confidential statistical, factual, quantitative, or qualitative information that is regularly maintained or created by or on behalf of a City department.

"Open data" means data that is available online, in a freely accessible format, with no legal encumbrances on use or reuse. Open data is provided in machine-readable format via Application Programming Interfaces (API).

"Open format" means any widely accepted, nonproprietary, platform-independent, machine-readable method for formatting data, which permits automated processing of such data and facilitates search capabilities.

"Data portal" means the Internet site established and maintained by or on behalf of the City for the collection and dissemination of publishable City data

"Dataset" means a named collection of related records, with the collection containing data organized or formatted in a specific or prescribed way, often in tabular form.

"Protected information" means any dataset or portion thereof to which a City department, office, administrative unit, commission, board, advisory committee or other division/department of the City government including third-party agency contractors that create or acquire information, records, or data on behalf of a City division/department, may deny access pursuant to applicable privileges or confidentiality doctrines and/or any applicable federal laws and/or the the laws of the State of New York.

"Publishable City data" means data which is not protected or sensitive and which has been prepared for release on the open data web portal.

"Sensitive information" means any data that is subject to applicable exceptions or exemptions from disclosure pursuant to federal or state law or under such circumstances where, if such data were published on the Open Data Portal, its disclosure could raise privacy, confidentiality, privilege or security concerns or have the potential to jeopardize public health, safety or welfare to an extent that is greater than the potential public benefit of publishing that data.

Open Data Program

The City is subject to New York State Public Officers Law Article 6 Sections 84-90 more commonly cited as the Freedom of Information Law, which is largely incorporated in Chapter 361, Article IV (Public Access) of the Buffalo City Code, aka the Freedom of Information Ordinance. The Freedom of Information Law and the City ordinance provide that the people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. The legislature declares that government is the public's business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of the law.

The City will build on this existing principle by developing and implementing practices that allow it to:

  1. Proactively release all publishable City data, making it freely available and fully accessible to the broadest range of users in readily accessible formats without any licensing fees or restrictions on use or reuse;

  2. Publish high quality, updated data with documentation (metadata) to encourage maximal use;

  3. Maintain an open data portal that provides a central location for published City data;

  4. Minimize limitations on the disclosure of public information while appropriately safeguarding protected and sensitive information;

  5. Encourage innovative uses of the City's publishable non-privileged and non-confidential data by departments, the public, and other partners; and

  6. Provide open data that increases government efficiency, improves the quality of life of its citizens, and ensures opportunity for all residents.

The development and implementation of these practices will be overseen by the Open Data Governance Committee, which will report to the Mayor, or the Mayor's designee.

This policy will apply to any City department, office, administrative unit, commission, board, advisory committee or other division/department of the City government including the records of third-party agency contractors that create or acquire information, records, or data on behalf of a City division/department.


The Open Data Program will be overseen by the Open Data Governance Committee, comprised of representatives from the Mayor's Office, City departments, and will include input from the public.

The head of each City Department will designate, from within the department, an open data liaison, who will: be responsible for managing that department's participation in the Open Data Program; identify potential datasets for inclusion in the Open Data Portal; upload data to the Open Data Portal; contextualize datasets with descriptive metadata; explain or cite how the data was created; periodically update the data based on internal and external needs; serve on the Open Data Governance Committee; upon request, meet with the Open Data Governance Committee to discuss any matter pertaining to implementation of this Order; and assist in the preparation of the annual open data compliance report.

The Open Data Governance Committee will:

  1. Oversee the creation of a comprehensive inventory of datasets held by each City department which is published to the Open Data Portal and regularly updated;

  2. Develop and implement a process for guarding against the publishing of potentially sensitive, protected, privileged and/or confidential information;

  3. Develop and implement a process for prioritizing the release of datasets to the Open Data Portal which takes into account new and existing signals of interest from the public (such as the frequency of FOIL requests), the City's programmatic priorities, existing opportunities for data use in the public interest, and cost;

  4. Establish processes for publishing datasets to the Open Data Portal, including processes for ensuring that datasets are reviewed for use-appropriate formats, quality, timeliness, and exclusion of protected and sensitive information;

  5. Develop and oversee a routinely updated, publicly accessible timeline for new dataset publication;

  6. Ensure that access to restricted data is blocked, but make it possible to extract non-protected information from restricted sources and remove any data that represents policy concerns for publication, where feasible;

  7. Ensure that published datasets are available for bulk download;

  8. Provide for a future means of digitizing archived material that was in existence prior to the development of the Open Data Program;

  9. Actively encourage department and public participation by providing regular opportunities for feedback and collaboration;

  10. Ensure sufficient funding for implementation and support of an open data ecosystem by identifying funding sources for potential expenses, such as new staff, new software, training, and server maintenance;

  11. Set appropriately ambitious, clear, and firm timelines for implementation to provide motivation for action with benchmarks that can be used as metrics to quantify compliance with this policy;

  12. Create and explore potential partnerships that bolster efforts related to data release, such as: increasing the availability of open data, identifying citizen priorities for data release, and connecting government information to data held by nonprofits, academic institutions, think tanks, and neighboring governments;

  13. Work with the Chief Information Officer to develop contract provisions to promote open data policies in technology-related procurements. These provisions will promote the City's open data program, including, when appropriate, requirements to post data to the City's open data portal or to make data available through other means; and

  14. Create a data governance standards document that defines: the vision and daily operation of the open data program; the detailed roles and responsibilities of leadership and data liaisons within the program; a method for the identification and prioritization of datasets for publication and continuous updating; and a means for evaluating successes and failures of the open data program.

Annual Open Data Compliance Report

Within 365 days of the effective date of this Order, the Open Data Governance Committee shall submit an annual open data compliance report to the Mayor.

The report shall include an assessment of progress toward achievement of the goals of the City's Open Data program, a list of datasets currently available on the Open Data Portal, and a description and publication timeline for datasets envisioned to be published on the portal in the following year. Where possible, the report will include metrics on who is using government data, which data is being used, and how the data is being used. The report will also include suggestions for improving the City's open data management processes in order to ensure that the City continues to move toward the achievement of the policy's goals.

Following the submission of its initial report, the Governance Committee will submit an updated report annually.

The annual open data compliance report will be made available on the City's open data portal.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Lee

    I am in support of the proposed policy to further enable data and subsequent knowledge sharing. I agree with fellow contributors that it would be beneficial to see more detailed outlines for the specific process that is going to enable community members to contribute to the Open Data portal by creating, uploading and verifying data sets to be published. Myself and colleagues have created a number of valuable data sets that could be beneficial across city departments, community organizations and individual interests. Understanding that only data sets meeting the standards set forth as a result of this policy will be accepted, we can collaboratively drive the understanding of our community from all perspectives.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Lee

    public participation by providing regular opportunities for feedback and collaboration

    I would be interested to see this more finely documented. It would be great to have a living, breathering process that community members could submit data sets that they have created (required to meet the data standards set forth by the Open Data Policy) for verification and publication to the open data portal within a timely manner. Individuals in the community may have greater flexibility and time to produce unique data sets pertinent to acute challenges and enable broader understanding in a more timely manner.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    I strongly support the proposed policy, with a recognition of the outstanding contributions that have already been made by other residents, citizens, and interested parties.

    Many thanks to the City of Buffalo for leading this effort. Most of my comments are within the document itself, but I do agree with other comments below that emphasize the need for substantial citizen involvement in governance, application, and oversight. During the RFP process, I would encourage the city to include not only requirements for a portal, but also an iterative feedback/improvement process with residents and regular data users so that the city's investment in this system can produce tangible use cases and real benefits to our city and its people.

    The Department of Citizen Services should also be commended for their use of the collaborative policymaking platform. In the age of the internet, this is an excellent way to increase public participation in these types of processes. Many thanks for this opportunity.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    Publish high quality, updated data with documentation

    Can the portal include an option for community members/partners to publish their own data to a section of the site? Provided it adheres to a set of minimum standards and passes review.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    limitations on the disclosure of public information

    It may be a helpful option to include a repository of FOIL requests and responses (whatever is able to be centralized), as well as an option to automate or streamline the FOIL request process via the portal interface.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    Open Data Governance Committee

    Minutes from any and all meetings of this committee should be made available in machine-readable formats in an easily-accessible location (including within the open data system)

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    and will include input from the public.

    A Citizens Advisory Committee can be designated (appointments by mayor, council members) to support the Governance Committee in the areas of reviewing datasets to be published, hosting events for public feedback and participation, facilitating collaborations, facilitating use of the portal, expanding awareness of open data resources and applications, as well as defining and regularly reviewing the data standards governance document.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski


    equitable access to opportunity (open data can help move us closer to this goal)

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    how the data is being used

    This part of the reporting should make specific reference to the three goals articulated in Section "Open Data Program", part 6: government efficiency, improved quality of life, and expanded economic opportunities.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    Encourage innovative uses of the City's publishable non-privileged and non-confidential data by departments, the public, and other partners; and

    The open data system should include a space for showcasing the innovative ways in which city data are used by these various stakeholders.

  • User profile image

    Stephanie Perry


    Remove "paramount." Privacy, confidentiality and security should be considerations when determining whether data should be open, but they should not be presumed to be paramount and therefore superior to the public's right to know.

  • User profile image

    Stephanie Perry

    I strongly support the spirit of this policy and the efforts made toward ensuring free public access to data information and government transparency. As a private citizen and freelance writer and researcher, I support the timely adoption and implementation of this policy.

    The following are my concerns with the policy as it now stands:

    The policy should encourage and, when possible, mandate the collection and dissemination of information collected by non-city and quasi-governmental agencies such as the NFTA, BMHA, Buffalo Place, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, hospital campuses, institutions of higher education and other organizations providing public services such as park maintenance, policing and security, transportation and education services. In particular, public safety information from police and security forces managed by Buffalo Place, medical and college campuses and the NFTA should be subject to the open data policy.

    When information is unavailable due to its privileged status, it should be made available in the aggregate whenever possible. e.g., motor vehicle incident reports are not public per NYS law but should be presented to the public in an anonymized or aggregate form.

  • User profile image

    Robert Galbraith

    The following comment is submitted on behalf of the Public Accountability Initiative:

    The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) is a non-profit educational group focused on transparency and accountability headquartered in the City of Buffalo. PAI operates a research platform,, that brings together information obtained through public records for use by journalists, academics, and activists as well as the general public. Access to current government information is paramount to PAI’s work and to meaningful participation in a democracy. As such, PAI endorses the goals of the Open Data proposal.

    Below we have highlighted what feel are the most commendable inclusions in the proposal as currently drafted, made suggestions for further improvement, and raised concerns with certain provisions of the proposal.

    By providing access to public information proactively and for free, the Open Data proposal addresses two significant burdens to public access to information: failure to respond to freedom of information requests in a timely fashion and undue copying fees levied by public agencies. According to MuckRock, a non-profit organization that facilitates the filing and analysis of freedom of information requests, the City of Buffalo takes an average of 63 days to respond to freedom of information requests and charges an average fee of $4.13 per request. PAI has had considerable difficulty obtaining public records from city agencies, most notably the Buffalo Police Department (see e.g. “FOIL by inches: The slow-drip transparency of Buffalo PD” by Caitlin Russell of MuckRock).

    If these burdens are truly shifted from requesters to the City, Buffalo will be making a commendable commitment to transparency. To even further improve access to public records, PAI seconds Brian Borncamp’s recommendation that the Open Data Policy provide for a “centralized system for submitting, tracking, and responding to FOIL requests.” By centralizing all requests and by making requests and responses publicly available, the City can dramatically increase its responsiveness to public requests for information and reduce instances of non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Law that result in costly attorneys’ fees.

    PAI also highlights and applauds the inclusion of “records of third-party agency contractors that create or acquire information, records, or data on behalf of a City division/department” as an especially meaningful and important component of the Open Data proposal. Public entities are increasingly reliant on non-governmental or quasi-governmental non-profits to perform governmental services. If unchecked, those third-party contractors can act as a “black box” where important information can be kept secret from the public, leading to suspicion and, at times, scandal. The State University at New York system is currently dealing with this issue within its nominally private campus-related foundations at the center of the United States Attorney investigation into Buffalo Billion contracting.

    Explicitly holding third-party contractors to the same transparency standard as the public agencies they’re working for both honors the letter of New York’s Freedom of Information Law and serves as a proactive measure to avoid actual or apparent corruption. This provision should be taken further to explicitly include records of all city-related public benefit corporations and other quasi-governmental entities.

    Finally, as PAI is involved with technology development in addition to producing original research, we call attention to the proposed availability of City of Buffalo data via an Application Programming Interface (API). Providing data this way allows developers to interact with data in new and unexpected ways and facilitates analysis of that data. For example, PAI’s research platform LittleSis interacts with the OpenSecrets database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics via an API to incorporate campaign finance as soon as it is uploaded. In addition to making City of Buffalo data available via an API, PAI also recommends that datasets be available for bulk download in various relevant formats to permit analysis using Microsoft Excel or other programs.

    PAI has significant concerns about the oversight of Buffalo’s Open Data portal. As currently stipulated in the proposal, development and implementation of the Open Data practices will be delegated to appointees of the Mayor with “input from the public.” It is crucial for the Open Data Governance Committee to be free from the influence of politics and to not be beholden to any one political representative. As such, the Open Data Governance Committee should include representatives from the City as well as from independent organizations working in the public interest, such as the residents, businesses, researchers, and media mentioned in the policy’s statement of purpose, and independent members should comprise a majority of the committee’s votes.

    Alongside the existing Open Book Buffalo portal, this Open Data policy represents a praiseworthy commitment to transparency and accountability for the City of Buffalo. For this, the Public Accountability Initiative again commends the city government and welcomes any further opportunity for input on this important initiative. By adopting a policy that addresses the above-stated concerns addressed – especially those about oversight and the centralization of freedom of information requests and responses – the City of Buffalo will take a great stride in advancing transparency and accountability to its residents.

  • User profile image

    Curtis Robbins


    I assume this would be funding for training the support staff. I would like to also recommend that a portion of the funding be allocated for training residents, community groups and nonprofits on how to access information and analyze it to inform their work.

  • User profile image

    Curtis Robbins

    residents, government leaders, businesses, researchers, and the media,

    It is important to include all members of the local community that can benefit from this information; including nonprofits and foundations.

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