Open Hamilton

Case study: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The consolidated city-parish of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ranked high in a 2015 list of cities using innovative technologies to increase transparency, engagement and cybersecurity. And its open data portal was cited as a key reason for the ranking.

Metro Ideas Project spoke with Interim Director of Information Services Eric Romero and consultant John Snow to learn about the path to implementing Open Data BR and the future of open government data in Baton Rouge.

Mayor-President Melvin Holden got the idea for making data transparent and accessible from a 2013 South by Southwest presentation by New York City Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot. That year, the push to open government data was mainly led by the country’s largest cities. The mayor-president saw an opportunity for Baton Rouge to become a leader among midsize cities.

Two other factors drove Open Data BR. First, the government was looking for ways to become more efficient, effective and transparent. Second, it wanted to position the city-parish as a place for digital innovation.


The initiative was spearheaded by the mayor’s office and formally authorized in 2014. The Department of Information Services handled much of the implementation.

IS spent six months learning from municipalities that had already implemented their own initiatives across the country. They spoke to officials in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Raleigh and San Francisco to learn what worked and what didn’t. The department found that other cities were excited to share their experiences. IS also found that while there wasn’t a perfect model to replicate, there were ways to adapt different approaches to fit Baton Rouge.

During this research phase, IS created an inventory of all local government datasets that could potentially be put online. The department developed a phased approach to making internal data publicly available.

The first wave of datasets were those that were already high in demand. IS measured demand by the frequency of public records requests as well as popular datasets on other municipal data platforms.

This initial phase launched in 2015. The datasets included fire and police data, government employee salaries and detailed property information. Now the portal has more than 90 datasets and a dozen apps.


The city-parish spent $8,000 in the first phase for a subscription to Socrata, the vendor that houses the open data portal. No new hires were made. The city-parish’s database administrator was promoted to director of information services, a change that included management of Open Data BR.


Here are some ways government, media and the public have used the open data portal.

Government employees are able to access other departments’ information online without having to request it, resulting in internal efficiencies. For example, employees can get salary information without having to contact the payroll clerk.

The local newspaper publishes crime and permit data. Reporters pull the information off the portal instead of contacting different departments and cleaning data from spreadsheets.

The Futures Fund, a local nonprofit, uses the data to teach underserved youth computer programming.


Here are some of the challenges faced during implementation.

Buy-in from government departments was slow at first. Some resisted opening up their data or didn’t see the initial value of doing so. This was overcome by strong backing from the mayor-president. After the initial rollout, the same departments recognized the value and became more willing to cooperate. Departments began to identify other potential datasets for release.

It was difficult to strike the right balance between publishing useful data and protecting confidentiality. One example comes from crime data. Locations of incidents were spatially dislocated by a few miles to help anonymize victims’ identities. IS decided to redact certain information when victims’ privacy outweighed the public benefit of publishing location-based incidents.

An additional staff member would have helped during the initial rollout. There were budgetary constraints at first. IS now has a student intern to help do routine work such as filling out metadata and analyzing datasets.

Lessons learned

Here are some of the lessons learned from implementation.

Executive support is critical. The mayor-president started the initiative. The Metropolitan Council supported it. Leadership from the executive and legislative branches provided leverage to guide the project through initial department resistance.

Publishing data online isn’t enough. There needs to be a focus on data quality and integrity. For example, IS included standardized, comprehensive metadata for each dataset. That process slows publishing but provides useful information for developers and the public.

Steps forward

Baton Rouge wants its open data portal to become a one-stop shop for all city-parish data. This goal is being met by incrementally releasing additional datasets. But the government will also need to form partnerships with other agencies that are not under the direct authority of the government. Examples include the sheriff’s office, the assessor’s office and the education department.

The Open Data BR initiative is also seeking partnerships with higher education institutions like Southern University and LSU.

Finally, IS is starting to emphasize data analytics. It’s establishing relationships with LSU’s Master of Science in Analytics program and software development groups like the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Technology Council. The ultimate goal is to identify trends in data, such as crime and traffic, that can enhance service delivery and resource allocation.

Jacqueline Homann

Policy research director

Jacqueline Homann has worked at a number of international and federal institutions. She is a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and holds an M.A. in policy studies.