Open Data Initiative (Alameda County, USA)

Open Data Initiative (Alameda County, USA)


Problems and Purpose

In recent years, governments have sought to harness the power of ‘big data’ to improve performance and increase transparency. This has frequently been accomplished through ‘open data’ projects in which leaders make available a range of data sets generated and used by public agencies. With the launch of the Open Data Initiative (ODI), Alameda County (CA) became one of the first county-level  jurisdictions in the United States to launch an open data program in 2012. The initiative was inspired by the move towards open data among large cities such as New York and Chicago.[1] County leadership, including County Administrator Susan Muranishi, instructed information technology director Tim Dupuis to develop a system for releasing raw data sets to the public. Currently the portal hosts over 140 data sets, ranging from crime reports to restaurant inspections. Just as notable, the ODI has become a leader in using hackathons - gatherings of computer programmers and software developers to collaborate on new projects - to spur collaborations within government and between government and citizens.


Containing the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, Alameda County is the seventh-largest county in California and is home to over 1.5 million people. As information and communications technologies (ICTs) have evolved, their applications to governments at all levels have expanded to include increasing transparency and easing civic participation, as public agencies are now able to publish large amounts of information on organizations impacting the interests of constituents. By making such data publicly available, the prevailing argument holds, governments can be held more accountable by citizen watchdogs, and civic groups can work more effectively with elected leaders to develop new solutions to pressing issues.[2] Launched in 2012, the Alameda County Open Data Sharing Initiative - or Open Data Initiative, for short - was first conceived of in 2011 by County Administrator Susan Muranishi and the Board of Supervisors.[3] The Board of Supervisors created a Data Sharing Committee co-chaired by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the County Administrator’s Office (CAO). The committee meets on a recurring basis and is attended by representatives of each agency and department in the County.  

The County began hosting annual hackathons, starting in 2012, in which county data sets are used by teams of developers, civic activists, and engaged citizens to collaborate on new mobile and web applications. Based off the first successful hackathons, the county government decided to host its own annual hackathon, RethinkAC, starting in September 2013. At these meetings, county employees and data scientists collaborate on using data sets for internal purposes, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of government services.[4]

Originating Entities and Funding

The Open Data Initiative has been funded entirely by the Alameda County government, with costs paid for by the Information Technology Department’s budget.[5] Technological support has been provided by civic organizations Code for Oakland and the Urban Strategies Council.[6] The Open Data portal developed to host the county’s data sets was developed in consultation with the private software developer Socrata, which is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the portal. 

Participant Selection

The Open Data Initiative is led by the County’s Data Sharing Committee (DSC), which is co-led by the Chief Information Officer and the County Administrator’s Office. Each agency and department of the County’s government sends a representative to the DSC. The DSC meets quarterly to discuss strategic questions related to external and internal data-sharing, including which data sets to release through the public portal and how these sets should be formatted.[7] At present, agencies are not mandated to provide any particular data sets; however, users may request that data sets be made available on and the request may be considered by the DSC.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

While users are welcome to use the data at their own leisure, Alameda County has achieved notable success in using ‘hackathons’ to promote the Open Data Initiative. These 'hackathons' bring together programmers and civil society leaders to examine data sets and design new tools to help make the data accessible and useful to members of the public, establishing an ecosystem of civic engagement empowered by open data. Shortly after launching the portal, county leadership explored the possibility of bringing together civic leaders and programmers to develop new tools based off the county’s data. These external hackathons, called App Challenges, have occurred annually since the ODI’s launch. Furthermore, the success of these challenges led to the establishment of internal hackathons, called RethinkAC, during which members of the county information technology team use county data to develop new ideas for improving government performance.[8]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

In its four years of operation, the Open Data Initiative has encouraged the development of nearly a dozen county-level apps and helped county leadership identify new ways to use technology to improve services. One hackathon helped county leaders envision a system for automated invoicing, saving the county over $500,000 in scanning and storage costs each year.[9]

Since its launch, the Open Data Initiative has been recognized for its innovative approach to opening county-level data. Recognitions to date have included:

  • A 2015 Public Technology Institute Technology Solutions Award[10]

  • A 2015 Digital Counties Survey Award[11]

  • A 2014 National Association of Counties Achievement Award[12]

  • A 2013 Center for Digital Government Digital Government Achievement Award[13]

  • A 2013 California State Association of Counties Merit Award[14]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The case of the Open Data Initiative demonstrates the possibility for technological innovation to have spillover effects into organizational culture, allowing governments to experiment with innovation. From its initial move to open its data sets, Alameda County leadership has developed an entire ecosystem of civic engagement aimed at empowering citizens to collaborate on new ideas to use this information. The success of these initial public hackathons, in turn, inspired county leadership to develop their own internal hackathons. At the same time, county leadership has not yet mandated agency submission of data sets to the Open Data Initiative.


Secondary Sources

“Alameda County Saves More Than $565,000 with Open Data,” Socrata. Accessed 12/8/2016.

“Alameda County, Calif., Sets High Standards for Hackathons,” Government Technology. Accessed 12/8/2016.

External Links

Open Data portal. Accessed 12/8/2016.

AC Apps Challenge site. Accessed 12/8/2016.

Alameda County Apps Challenge whitepaper. Accessed 12/12/2016.

Open Data Briefing for Alameda County Data Sharing Committee. Accessed 12/22/2016.

















Case Data


Information Technology Department
1106 Madison Street, Room 336
94607 Oakland , CA
United States
California US


Other: Intended Purpose(s): 
Co-design of ICT Platforms and Apps


Start Date: 
Sunday, January 1, 2012
End Date: 
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Number of Meeting Days: 
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If yes, were they ...: 
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Facetoface, Online or Both: 
Type of Interaction among Participants: 
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Who paid for the project or initiative?: 
Alameda County
Who was primarily responsible for organizing the initiative?: 
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Who else supported the initiative? : 
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Other: Supporting Entities: 
Code for America


Total Budget: 
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Number of Volunteers: 
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