$42 million fund for open data available only to Cleveland and 274 other cities

All the City of Cleveland (and the other 274 cities) needs to do is state its interest in the What Works Cities initiative.

What’s “all” mean in the case of getting in on what’s projected to be a three-year investment in 100 cities with populations between 100,000 and 1 million? A notice to be filled out online that goes to the WWC.

Submitting that information gets a city’s hat in the ring for what the Sunlight Foundation, one of five partner entities, says is an initiative aimed at helping “…local governments make better use of the data they create in order to engage the public, make government more effective and improve people’s lives.”

Not only will we get the chance to talk about open data in many new places across the country, but the What Works Cities initiative ties the goal of opening data to helping cities achieve the goals they set for themselves. In doing this, the program provides additional answers to the kinds of questions about open data — who uses it? And what do they do with it? — that we still often hear. With this program, cities will get the support they need to use their high quality, released data in the way that’s most effective for them, putting it to work in answering their most pressing questions. Meanwhile, they will also be supported in improving the way they use public input about their data.

There’s even a local connection: well-known philanthropist and tech entrepreneur, Mario Morino, is a supporter of Results For America, another one of the partner entities. (The other institutions are the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University and the Bloomberg Philanthropies.)

It’s impossible to live in Northeast Ohio and not realize how full a plate the City of Cleveland leaders possess when it comes to the choices they must make around priorities. Still, this opportunity to build our capacity to learn about, harness and utilize public data could not come at a better time. In just the last six months, Open Cleveland, Hack Cleveland and Open NEO came online.  At the end of this month, the two-day civic hackathon, Fix 216 (please sign up and attend), will

…gather residents, community leaders, activists, organizers, innovators and technologists. Together, we will brainstorm, design and build web or mobile apps to address public safety, excessive force and the Department of Justice consent decree in Cleveland.

The concern that the City doesn’t have the capacity to take advantage of an opportunity like this isn’t unfounded. However, it’s also exactly what the What Works Cities team eagerly seeks to attack and alter in collaboration with the communities. Here’s to hoping they will get the chance.

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