Palo Alto becomes model for transparency in California

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

It’s the birthplace of Silicon Valley, so it’s only fitting the city of Palo Alto is leading the charge in creating a more inclusive form of local California government with its Open Data Platform.

Online for about eight months, the city has made it a priority to increase access to data and keep the city at the forefront of innovation and public sector technology.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our open data. It’s not just talk, it’s action. This is where it gets real. It’s all about giving the community complete, unfiltered access to what, essentially, is theirs,” said Jonathan Reichental, Chief Information Officer for the city of Palo Alto.

California Forward first reported on the city’s initiative in August 2012. Since then, more data has been added to the platform, including publishing several decades of library data.

“The library community in California is very active and so the various library organizations are hitting up our site, increasing our traffic.”

But the city just launched something much bigger, as part of its Open Data Budget. Early last week, data on every single employee’s salaries are now online.

“You can find all of the 2011 and 2012 salaries, benefits, contributions and more. Usually every year we get requests from the media, but this time we wanted to be proactive because we believe in this and we’re not just doing this for show. We wanted to get this data out well before it’s even needed and make it available for everyone,” said Reichental. “You can download it, graph it, sort it to see who’s getting paid the most, and the least.”

Californians want a government they can trust. Posting salaries was a move in the right direction.

 “I’ve never gotten so many emails from the community saying “thank you for doing this, thank you for making salaries available in spreadsheet formats.”

Thanks to this new information, the site “has really got a lot of eyeballs so we saw a huge spike in traffic after that.”

The work from city staffers doesn’t stop there. Here are a few things to look forward to: starting next week, the platform will begin its first real time push.

“Generally with open data the team is handed some information and that information gets posted weekly or monthly, well open data is less useful the less current it is. So we are working with a company to post information every ten minutes or every few hours, we’ll go live.”

Also, the city’s Hack-a-thon is June 1 to coincide with National Day of Civic Hacking.  And in the fall, the city is launching an apps challenge.

“We’ll be asking folks to build apps that are really valuable for the community, really incentivized solutions,” said Reichental.

Open government is good, smart government.

“We want to have a bigger impact. We want to be a model for other towns and cities.”


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza