By Christopher Nelson.

With its brand new citywide transparency portal launched earlier this month, Riverside joinsLos AngelesPalo Alto, and other California cities that are embracing transparency and open data with a giant bear hug.

The city claims that the newly launched site “EngageRiverside” gives unfettered access to 815,000 documents that contain 3.4 million pages worth of information on any facts or data sets that inquiring citizens or journalists would want to know.

“EngageRiverside is neither the beginning nor the end of our ongoing effort to improve transparency, but it is an important step forward,” Mayor Rusty Bailey said in a release.

The site has sections for city records, budget and finance, general open data, council and board meeting agendas and info, election results, maps as well as one for reporting fraud. What is perhaps most interesting, however, is the one labeled “Share Your Ideas,” which after clicking leads you to a tool called Mind Mixer. It offers the ability for direct, two way communication between residents and city officials.

Although social media already exists for exchanges like this, residents create an account with Mind Mixer and it’s specifically tailored for this type of interaction while offering community members a chance to engage and share ideas with each other as well. Just one month in, it’s still too early to gauge what benefits this tool will produce, but the important factor now is that it exists.

“Collaboration and making use of collective knowledge is critical,” said Lea Dessing, Chief Innovation Officer for Riverside at an event earlier this year at which she previewed some of the thinking behind Engage Riverside. “It’s not about government being all knowing, it’s about public participation.”

And participate they have. Since its launch earlier this month, the site has garnered almost 83,000 pageviews (almost 400,000 in total since the open data effort began in 2012). Deesing’s emphasis on accessibility of information for taxpayers who technically own all of it seems to have struck a chord. Deesing agrees, saying in a recent email that “visitors appear to be very interested in the types of data we have published.”

It’s a new frontier and the best thing about putting this much data out there is that you can never anticipate what the end results will be, both in terms of how the public will put it to use and how the combination of data from different agencies will, together, paint an unforeseen picture.

“Similar to the early days of the open source movement of the 20th century, we don’t yet fully understand the potential of our open data, but we inherently know it is critical to breaking down silos of information,” Deesing said.

“Data ‘mash-ups’ from varying agencies have the potential to answer questions that have yet to be asked and help solve problems that have yet to be identified. Acknowledging that we can’t predict future insights, services, and products that will result from open data makes it more compelling to ask, ‘why not?’”

It’s critical that local municipalities continue to march toward greater transparency and engagement with their systems to establish and maintain a core trust between elected officials and their constituents. Where the state lags, the cities and counties can shine and create the infrastructure necessary for a truly open Goden State.

[divider] [/divider]

Originally posted at CA Fwd.