Since 2014, the U.S. City Open Data Census has tracked what datasets are open and available online in cities across the United States. In doing this, the Census is one of the nation’s most prominent (though not perfect) benchmarking tools for city staff and residents to understand what data their city makes available, how their city compares to others across the country, and what datasets their city should consider releasing to be among the nation’s leaders on transparent and accountable government.

We mentioned back in November that changes were coming to the Census. Our partners at Open Knowledge International have been making changes to the technical platform that supports the U.S. City Open Data Census (and dozens of similar projects around the world). We’re excited to announce that the relaunched Census website is live and ready for your submissions.

Check out the brand new U.S. City Open Data Census to see the new features and datasets, and to add information for your city. We took Open Knowledge International’s technical changes to the site as an opportunity to revisit which datasets were included on the Census. We added four new datasets and removed three. My colleague Greg Jordan-Detamore has a full explanation of the changes to datasets and the site platform.

The full list of datasets included on the Census is now: Budget; Business Listings; Code Violations; Construction Permits; Crime Reports; Emergency Calls; Employee Salaries; Lobbyist Activity; Parcels; Police Use-of-Force; Procurement Contracts; Property Assessment; Property Transfers; Public Facilities; Restaurant Inspections; Service Requests; Spending; Traffic Crashes; Website Analytics; and Zoning. More information about what each of these include, as well as examples, are available in our datasets explainer.

A fresh assessment for cities’ open data

One of the Census’s hallmark features is that it assigns a score to each city based on the relative openness of their data. After a last call for submissions at the end of 2017, the cities that were leading the pack were:

Rank City name Total Score*
1 Austin, TX 1855
2 San Francisco, CA 1845
3 Las Vegas, NV 1830
4 New York, NY 1740
5 Los Angeles, CA 1710
6 Chicago, IL 1655
7 Philadelphia, PA 1595
8 Santa Monica, CA 1560
9 San Diego, CA 1550
10 Anchorage, AK 1430
*Cities’ total scores are as of December 31, 2017. Scores are imperfect; they’re a crowdsourced metric and dependent on volunteer contributions.


As you’ll see on the new Census website, the score for every city in the nation has been reset to zero. For cities that were in the lead, or who had invested time and energy logging dataset information, we know this might be disappointing. The new Census platform required a break from the previous site, and the datasets and submissions changes were significant enough that carrying over scores would be an inaccurate comparison. If you want to see where your city previously stood, the archived version of the old Census is still available.

The good news is that this means the field is wide open to showcase your city’s open data work. Whether your city is just starting its open data program or has been publishing open datasets for several years, now is a great time to benchmark what data is open in your city, and take an early lead nationwide.

Anyone, in any city, is invited to contribute information to the Census. You do not have to be a city staff member or an open data expert to participate. We extend a particularly warm invitation to cities participating in What Works Cities, as well as cities that have passed an open data policy to participate. To these cities: you are already doing outstanding work on open data; this is a chance for you to show that good work to the rest of the country.

In addition, we invite advocacy groups working on specific issues — like policing, public finances, or urban development — to add information about those categories across cities. The Census has the potential to show which cities are leading the way to publish data about important issues facing American communities.

Submit information about your city’s data today. We plan to publish a midyear leaderboard in June looking at which cities are scoring highest at that point for 2018. We encourage you to get your city’s open datasets loaded on to the Census before then in order to be included.

The U.S. Open Data Census is one of the best ways for cities to see how they compare to one another and to learn from cities that are leading the way. Helping local leaders aspire for ambitious goals, and learn from one another how to accomplish them is one of the great assets way that What Works Cities encourages. We’re looking forward to putting this new platform to use tracking open data across the country. Visit the new site to add information about your own city today.

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Alex Dodds is Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities Storyteller. In that role she helps showcase how cities are using open data to help everyone in their community, as well as Sunlight’s broader Open Cities work.