San Francisco Mayor to Appoint a Chief Data Officer

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We’re curious to see how SF’s Chief Data Officer will utilize open data to solve everyday problems for SF city dwellers !

We’ve written a lot about the emerging role of technologists in designing and managing tools for 21st governance — from Jack Dorsey’s ambitious goals to become the mayor of New York City, to Cory Booker’s newest media site #waywire – something is beginning to brew at the intersection of government and tech. Although 21st century governance may not seem like the next hot topic in the Valley, leave it to San Francisco to take the lead in making it the next thing to “disrupt”.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced  proposed changes to the City of San Francisco’s open data legislation policies — the most interesting being the addition of a Chief Data Officer.  With data as the new oil, it makes sense that our leaders are thinking ahead about how to harness its power. The Chief Data Officer (CDO), as appointed by the Mayor, will be “responsible for sharing City data with the public, facilitating the sharing of information between City departments, and analyzing how data sets can be used to improve city decision making” as outlined in the proposed revisions.

For the last few years, San Francisco has focused on making more data open to the public. From “policy hacks” to DataSF, Mayor Lee is working with innovators and technologists “to ensure that San Francisco remains one of the top cities focused on the Open Data movement.”

The new CDO (the position is still currently open !) will manage over 200 public data sets for 60 internal departments. But more importantly, they will be developing data sets and visualizations that can be shared with developers and with the public too.

What kind of data? And what will it be used for?

Currently available on DataSF is information about crime  and the campaign finances of San Francisco candidates.  There are also three new projects including an official Recreation and Parks Department mobile app, Esri a map that highlights urban revitalization and growth in the city over the past decade, and Outside, an app that encourages users to embark on “healthy missions” around the city. Lee also announced a new partnership with Motionloft, which can provide information on how people move about around the city by transmitting sensor data about pedestrian and vehicle activity in real-time! When it comes to partnerships with the private sector, “the content in the DataSF portal belongs to the people and not private vendors” says Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath.

In this case, access is more valuable than ownership. By opening access to information about their city, everyone can benefit. Take for example this open collaborative map created by motorcyclists in the Bay Area to share information about motorcycle parking. Knowing where to park doesn’t just make life simpler, it also helps local businesses in the area and encourages less cars.  In thinking about the larger vision for “ smart cities”, Alex Howard of O’Reilly Media asks :

What can we do that will help businesses make the city more livable in a systematic way? One way we’re going about that is rethinking what public space means. What are the kinds of data and interoperability standards that will allow that invisible architecture to be as accessible as a park is, and as malleable in purpose?

There’s also the opportunity for people within the community to get together and solve problems. As TechCrunch recently reported, San Francisco saved thousands of dollars by giving a group of volunteer civic hackers access to the government’s data so they could develop an app for the MUNI bus system.

Some of the Valley’s biggest names in tech are strongly supporting this type of data collaboration. A new video by the San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation (SF.Citi) features Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Jawbone’s Hosain Romant talking about mobile-based solutions to everyday city-dweller problems.

It’s time we connect the dots and realize that the tech industry doesn’t just operate in its own silo, especially when innovations have the potential to drastically improve our lives as residents and as citizens. As Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina said: “Silos can’t interoperate unless the technology does.” Business owners, residents, cars, bikes, parking meters, and smartphones can’t interoperate unless there is a system for doing so.

From swiping your card to pay for coffee, to hopping on MUNI,  there are hundreds of micro systems at work on a daily basis. At Google Zeitgeist this week, Eric Schmidt put forth that in our pursuit to improve the connections between all these systems, the ultimate goal is for technology to disappear. What’s left are highly connected human systems working together to solve issues that our government has yet to solve on its own. So where do we start? SF’s Chief Data Officer may have some ideas, we’ll have to wait and see.

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About Sona Makker

Sona is a first-year law student studying technology law at Santa Clara University. She’s an advocate for online privacy, digital rights, and public access to the public domain. If she’s not arguing with her siblings over whether This American Life is better than Radiolab, you’ll probably find her whipping up vegetarian dishes, or attempting to do a headstand in yoga class.
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