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

    Curtis Robbins

    Open Data Governance Committee

    How will this committee be formed? Will it be comprised of community stakeholders or only government employees/officials?

  • User profile image

    Curtis Robbins

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

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

  • User profile image

    Curtis Robbins

    foundations, nonprofits

  • User profile image

    Daniel Wulf

    Any additional data that is made available would be very helpful.

  • User profile image

    Jesse Griffis

    including the records

    "records" seems overly broad here.

  • User profile image

    Karyn Tareen

    Thank you to the City of Buffalo! My comments are regarding the geospatial (GIS) data. We often build tools for local government, and open data portals are our go-to standard to accessing data. Please also consider including open access to live data such as webservices. Downloadable data, such as xmls, shapefiles or even file geodatabases are necessary for local processing and analysis. However, most of our support to local government agencies is by functioning as tool and system developers. It makes us incredibly more productive (and accurate) to have access to live data. I agree with Sean Meyers and support the distribution of the webservices and mapservices in web standard formats. -Karyn Tareen CEO, Geocove

  • User profile image

    John O'B

    I'm glad this issue came to the forefront for the city, as these have been great resources in other cities across the country and world.

    My only primary concern is that often times these portals are more civic gestures than meaningful contributions to the data community. I would just ask that, should the city give its approval, there be some assurance that the data will be actionable and easily legible. Often times, spreadsheets are put out that contain codes and numerical systems that make sense for people working in offices that have the keys and necessary maps to use the data, but ultimately for the normal citizen, these are just collections of numbers that mean nothing in relation to the spatial understanding of the city. I ask that the city and Open Data Buffalo take care to translate spreadsheets so that the headings of tables and the layout of information is concise, sorted and legible. In addition to other added comments describing the value of GIS shape files and inter-application connectivity, simply making data logical and readable will go a long way to helping organizations across the city use the information. If the information is not useable, it is not useful.

  • User profile image

    Darren Cotton

    Thank you to the City of Buffalo for making open data a priority! I agree with the point made previously that the open data portal should include a repository of GIS shapefiles. As someone who works in the community development field, I often struggle to find the appropriate files and often have to cobble together data from various sources or create files from scratch. Having a centralized resource would make grant writing, needs assessments, and neighborhood planning efforts a lot easier. The UB Regional Institute has developed an ArcGIS-based database tracking a number of different environmental and demographic indicators as part of their work on One Region Forward, a regional plan for sustainable development in the Buffalo Niagara region: This might be a good place to start, although as previously mentioned, the ability to export this data in a usable file format is paramount. Excited to follow the progress of this initiative!

  • User profile image

    Sean Myers

    Thank you City of Buffalo for taking on this initiative. I have two comments:

    1. I think one one of the stated goals of the program should be to promote active participation by the community including civic technologists, civic activists, programmers, and database specialists to develop tools that turn data into insight for some of the city's pressing issues.

    2. I think it is very important to ensure that the technical definition of open data goes beyond the definitions provided by the vendors of the platforms currently in use by the city. We are in a web-based world so web-based standards must take precedence (e.g. JSON, geoJSON).

  • User profile image

    Peter Johnson


    Wait, where were the goals? Were they #'s 1-6 above? If so, the term 'goals' should be used there, just to make it clear.

  • User profile image

    Monica Stephens

    I want to thank Oswaldo Mestre and Kirk McLean for providing such a transparent forum for discussing and adopting an Open Data policy. Buffalo is taking advantage of data as a driver of economic and social change by providing it to the citizenry without restrictions.

    I’m curious about what platform Buffalo will use for the Open Data portal. I hope public comments will continue through the RFP process and in choosing a portal provider. Many platforms restrict the exchange of data so it’s a top-down process (i.e. Buffalo would create and provide all the data), however it would be beneficial to the city to host data from the non-profit and academic partners alongside municipal data. In addition, the efficacy of the portal would increase if municipal data could be supplemented with crowdsourced and citizen scientist created data.

    I hope the city will air on the side of transparency as it selects which datasets constitute “publishable city data” and will share many of the datasets that make the NYC data portal so rich (parking tickets, tree cover, vehicle collisions, building by year of construction, 311 data, etc..)

    Thanks again for providing such an open forum for discussing open data. I look forward to more productive community discussions.

    -Dr. Monica Stephens, University at Buffalo

  • User profile image

    Peter Johnson

    appropriately safeguarding protected and sensitive information;

    Could trim this to just focus on the safeguarding of protected and sensitive information. Minimize limitations on the disclosure of public information doesn't really describe the role of the city in protecting sensitive information.

  • User profile image

    Peter Johnson

    any licensing fees or restrictions on use or reuse;

    There will likely be a license, so yes, there will be a restriction on use/reuse (even something like acknowledging the source of the data). Maybe 'minimal restrictions on use'? Doesn't sound as good though!

  • User profile image

    Peter Johnson


    Not sure what this means for formats such as the ESRI shapefile (proprietary GIS format). I'm assuming that much of the infrastructure data will be in this format. All things being equal, having data in a proprietary format would be better than no data.

  • User profile image

    Peter Johnson

    Application Programming Interfaces (API

    Other options being explored? Bulk dataset download is still very common and effective, especially for those users who may not be comfortable accessing an API.

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