City officials are vying to engage students and other Madison residents in new ways after approving an initiative that opens up access to all city documents and records to the public via an online portal. 

Madison is now the second city in the country to pursue an open data initiative, which allows citizens electronic access to all city documents and records.

The initiative is meant to allow citizens the same access to city-related data as city officials, according to Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8. The City Council adopted the open data ordinance in June, just three months behind New York City, which was the first to adopt such a policy, he said.

According to Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2, the data that will be available on the new website will include things such as a map of Madison Metro Transit bus stops, Madison Public Library locations, building inspection information and information on crimes that occur in certain neighborhoods.

Resnick said he proposed the policy because he wanted to do something innovative that would improve the look and feel of Madison.

“[The open data ordinance] will help us improve ourselves as an innovative city,” he said.

Maniaci said the ordinance was meant to initiate transparency with the city government and to allow the public the opportunity to put city data to use.

However, the City Council particularly hopes the technology community will take advantage of the access to city data, she said.

According to Resnick, the new policy was also intended to encourage developers and programmers to develop useful applications that will benefit Madisonians. 

As an example, Resnick suggested a programmer could develop an iPhone or Android application that tells people where they can park their cars during a snow emergency, using a document available on the website explaining the city’s snow emergency guidelines.

Maniaci said she hopes the new ordinance will drive an entrepreneurial spirit that is lacking in the city.

“People are going to build apps that are useful in everyday lives,” Maniaci said. “We’re giving citizens the opportunity to really create something that will benefit the community.”

Maniaci anticipates the new policy will be particularly beneficial for University of Wisconsin students.

Students are some of the most advanced technology users, Maniaci said. She said one possible benefit of the ordinance to students is the increasing availability of information on where to rent safe and affordable housing.

Resnick agreed the ordinance will be positive to students.

“I am positive there are students on campus that will make an impact on campus with this data,” Resnick said.

In addition to using the data for personal reasons, there are a lot of students who are programmers and might want to get involved with open data and creating apps, according to Resnick.

Overall, Maniaci said she believes the new policy has the potential to really open up efficiency and good government practices.

“My hope is by having this open data ordinance, we will see apps and other things that will really be able to connect previously disconnected groups of citizens and inform that about City Hall issues,” Maniaci said.

All data can be found at data.cityofmadison.com.

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