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

    Peter Johnson

    will improve the provision of citizen services,

    will have the potential to improve? Probably want to leave the impact of open data provision a bit more open

  • User profile image

    Peter Johnson

    timely and consisten

    These are great - the update frequency question below is somewhat covered here.

  • User profile image

    Kelly Dodd

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

    Promote open data that informs increases in government efficiency, improvements in the quality of life of its citizens, and more equal opportunities for all residents.

    1. Commit to data driven decision making especially in areas of policy.
  • User profile image

    Monica Stephens

    regularly maintained

    Will data be shared if it is not regularly maintained? Perhaps "date of update" could be identified in the metadata. Will adopting an OpenData policy encourage the city to more regularly maintain datasets or will this clause be used to skirt sharing policies? Historical data (not regularly maintained) is still data.

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    Brian Borncamp

    My comments are rather lengthy. In addition to the comments below I've provided a copy inside a google doc.

    I commend Oswaldo Mestre and Kirk McLean for putting forward a draft Open Data Policy. Such policies work to make Buffalo government more effective, transparent, accountable, and responsive. This draft document is an important step forward. With all aspects of government we ought to strive for continual improvement. As improvement pertains to the draft Open Data Policy, I hope you find these suggestions amenable.

    The draft policy establishes an “Open Data Governance Committee”. As the committee currently stands, oversight and implementation is held entirely within the executive branch of city government. Given that the data provided would primarily originate from the executive branch, it is sensible to seek its representation. However, in the spirit of an open democratic society, the policy ought to seek independence and accountability through checks and balances from other institutions.

    The stated purpose of the policy, “creates value for residents, government leaders, businesses, researchers, and the media. ” With the exception of government leaders, none of these groups appear to be formally required by the draft policy. The policy ought to move the governance committee to include these stated groups.

    In creating an independent governance committee, the policy ought to seek representation from co-equal branches of government, e.g. the Common Council and City Comptroller. Ensuring appointment via other branches would go a long way toward promoting the Open Data Governance Committee as an independent body.

    Additionally, the structure of the committee ought to ensure that those appointed to the committee via the executive branch do not hold an automatic majority of voting eligible members. Seeking the “input” of the public is perhaps the lowest form of democracy. Input can be trivial, power is not.

    The draft policy does not specify how decisions made by the governance committee are to be made public. In ensuring that the governance committee is making decisions for the public good, record of said decisions ought to be publicly available.

    To the effect of the stated concerns, the governance committee ought to be adopted into the city charter subject to a vote by the common council.

    The draft policy attempts to cast a broad net over the institutions subject to it. Stated in the document, the 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.”

    Reading the draft, it is unclear as to the policy’s applicability to quasi-governmental agencies such as public benefit corporations, e.g. Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, Buffalo Urban Development Agency, and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. A small language tweak could incorporate such entities under the scope of the draft policy.

    Open data is a strong tool for open and transparent government. However, open data is only one of many tools regarding open government. FOIL is another tool that can help to move governments towards transparency and accountability. However, the state of FOIL in Buffalo is dismal. The shortcomings of the City of Buffalo as it pertains to FOIL have been well reported in the press. City departments routinely disregard the law as it relates to FOIL. In this author's experience, above 90% of FOIL requests submitted are not responded to with the requested documentation, or an agency determination explaining why such documents are not available.

    An open data policy cannot be the sole remedy for city officials unwillingness to follow the law. However, it can take steps toward holding those officials accountable. Inclusion into the draft policy of a centralized system for submitting, tracking, and responding to FOIL requests would be an incredible step forward. Such a measure would provide residents and city officials with an effective way to manage requests and comply with the relevant statutes. When conflict over FOIL requests do arise, the conflict would be publicly available and documented. Such a system would prevent FOIL requests from getting lost inside civic bureaucracy due to malfeasance or human error.

    The advancement of Open Data in Buffalo is an important step. I applaud the Division of Citizen Services for being forward thinking in this regard. That being said, the comments provided here ought not be seen as window dressing to the draft policy. These comments speak to structural concerns of strengthening democracy. The nature of power and human institutions is that they change over time. I hope that these comments are able to extended the drafted policy such that when institutions change the effect and intentions of the draft Buffalo Open Data Policy do not.

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    Chief Information Officer

    Does this position currently exist in City Hall? If not, who would take on this role?

  • User profile image

    Aaron Krolikowski

    periodically update the data based on internal and external needs

    It may be useful to have a participatory aspect that prioritizes data updates/releases based on demand (e.g. a certain number of requests triggers an update/response).

  • User profile image

    Christopher Fagiani

    Develop and implement a process for prioritizing the release of datasets

    Perhaps a section of the central repository should host all the data that was released in response to FOIL requests. It would provide wider access to this data and could serve as a means to solicit public feedback on the relative priority of establishing a more formal release of the dataset (with relevant metadata and scheduled refreshes of the data).

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    Joseph Ghosen


    Metadata is the key to making sure that the data is used correctly and enables the data to be used in as many different (yet appropriate) ways possible.

  • I support the effort to make data accessible to the public. The NYC Open Data portal is a good example of an existing resource with a similar intention. I recommend including environmental and geographic data in the form of GIS shapefiles which can be downloaded, as opposed to 'view-only' results or more traditional pdf or Excel files. I also recommend partnering with local higher education entities, such as the University at Buffalo, to provide research data in additional to official City of Buffalo owned/managed data.

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    Aubrey Hlavaty

    I am 100% supportive of open data and anything that improves citizen participation, however I opposed this document as it seems the Mayor implementing his own Open Data is a waste of funds and a duplication of efforts since this already exists for the City of Buffalo with the Comptroller's Open Book. If the purpose of this document is to have one centralized location for citizens to access data, it seems the Mayor should work to promote the Open Book and any expansion of data be incorporated into that site.

  • User profile image

    Andrew Nicklin

  • User profile image

    Andrew Nicklin


    City departments, and

  • User profile image

    Andrew Nicklin

    Ensure sufficient funding

    What authority does the Open Data Governance Committee have to do this? Does it derive from one or more specific members of the committee? The paragraph above which describes the membership doesn't specifically designate someone which has budget authority. Ideally this policy should address that concern somehow.

  • User profile image

    Andrew Nicklin

    Ensure that published datasets are available for bulk download;

    this seems like an unnecessary distinction which is covered by other language. Is the idea here to say that using an application programming interface (API) to access data is not sufficient?

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