Tag Archive | MA

From Public Access to Open Government: Access to GIS Data


From Public Records to Open Government: Access to Massachusetts Municipal Geographic Data

Robert Goodspeed, PhD Student, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Submitted for publication to URISA Journal, January 2011


Increasingly citizens are demanding access of raw data from governments to look up facts, hold them accountable, conduct analysis, or create innovative applications and services. Cities and towns create information for geographic information systems such as parcels, zoning, and infrastructure that are useful for a wide range of purposes. Through a public records request to all 351 Massachusetts municipalities, this paper investigates whether this data is accessible to citizens in practice. In an apparent violation of the law, two municipalities refused access to electronic records. Many others charged fees ranging up to $453 or placed burdensome legal restrictions on the data that could chill or prohibit creative reuses of the data through emerging technologies. Other practical barriers, such as limited technical knowledge or resources and outsourcing to private vendors, restricted public access to data. Most troubling, 23.2% of municipalities did not respond with 29 days, nearly three times the legally mandated 10-day response time. Finally, the paper discusses legal, policy, and technical steps that can be taken by governments to move from a “public records” to an “open government” paradigm for transparency of government data. The policy recommendations for municipalities include publishing GIS data for free online, and with minimal legal restrictions.

For full text of the article, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, click here.


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