Election Data Released for Democracy Hackathon

Today, the Office of the City Commissioners released six data sets. The new data sets could be used to improve the Election Day experience and promote civic engagement in Philadelphia.

The released election data includes:

The data was released in conjunction with the Apps for Philly Democracy Hackathon, a Code for Philly event that will bring together technologists, community organizers, and civic-engagement enthusiasts to prototype apps relating to democracy and/or civic-engagement.

If you have an idea for how the democratic experience or civic-engagement could be improved through technology, consider participating in the Apps for Philly Democracy Hackathon. The hackathon is a great event for the engaged or curious Philadelphian, even for those without technical skills. The event’s opening reception will include a brainstorm session on what to build or how to utilize data. Hackathon participants with advanced skills will likely lead in technical development but team members of every skill level can assist in each project’s research, design, marketing, and eventual launch. The opening reception will take place on Friday, March 27th in the City Hall Caucus Room from 5pm-7:30pm. The hackathon will take place on Saturday and Sunday in the City’s Innovation Lab on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building. City Commissioner Al Schmidt will be one of the judges for the hackathon’s final presentation at 2:00pm on Sunday.

“My office is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this important event. The Data Inventory Initiative is consistent with my commitment to improve the transparency and accountability of government by making election information available to the public. I look forward to seeing all of the great uses of these data sets by the participants in the Apps for Philly Democracy Hackathon. Together we can make election data accessible to everyone who wants to participate in the democratic process,” said Commissioner Schmidt.

Today’s data release has obvious external benefits but it is an important internal accomplishment as well. The election data is the first in a batch of upcoming releases that have gone through the City’s new open data process. The open data team worked with the Office of City Commissioner Al Schmidt to first create a data inventory (a comprehensive list of all datasets owned by a department, detailing its accuracy and sensitivity). Unpublished datasets then received feedback from both the public (via the City’s data inventory website) and the City’s data advisory group (representing diverse communities of public data users), to gauge which datasets were the most valuable. Next, datasets were prioritized by the department and entered into the open data team’s pipeline of work to scrub data, build automated processes for future updates, and release datasets into a central data store for public use. These releases are an indication that the City’s open data process is working and could be a repeatable way of doing business for Philadelphia city government.

City Releases Procurement Data

Open Contract Pic

Today marks a big win for transparency in Philadelphia City government. Through a collaborative effort between the Procurement Department, the Chief Integrity Officer, and the Office of Innovation and Technology, the City of Philadelphia released data on “Commodities Contracts” (or contracts for supplies, equipment, non-professional services, and public work services.)

This is important. By releasing commodities contract data, the City has successfully released data on all City contracts. (City contracts are broken down into two main categories: “Commodities” and “Professional Services.”) “Commodities” refers to equipment such as office supplies, vehicles, and “non-professional” services like as pest control or janitorial services. “Professional Services” refers to social services, legal services, and consulting, among others.

Professional Services data was released in 2014 and can be found here.

Today’s data release includes a breakdown of contract dollars by vendor, department, and service type. It also includes a list of expiring contracts, making the data not only valuable in the interest of government openness but in how it empowers a larger pool of vendors to do business with the City. Although not all expiring contracts will bid out again, the list could make vendors aware of potential, upcoming opportunities.

As with most of the City’s recent data releases, the commodities contract data is accompanied by visualizations, including a pie chart of the “Top 10 Contracts by Vendor” by the most recent fiscal quarter. This data dates back to July 1, 2013 (Fiscal Year 2014) and will be refreshed quarterly moving forward.

You can view, download, and read more about the commodities contract data here. Please let us know what you think!

alpha.phila.gov – Update #4: Pattern Portfolio

Alpha.phila.gov hasn’t had many cosmetic changes since we made it public, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot going on behind the scenes. We have been focusing our efforts on building a pattern portfolio to define and share all the common design elements currently on the site. Our goal is to provide a repository of common building blocks (styles, HTML markup, and colors) that developers, our team, and outside vendors can reference when building new sites and services. It is with great pleasure we present Phila.gov Patterns.

Screenshot of Phila.gov Patterns

A pattern portfolio is helpful in a few ways. First, it allows developers to rapidly develop applications and websites with the same look and feel. This makes for a consistent experience, allowing users to know what to expect when they come to a phila.gov website. Second, it helps bring order to chaos. Anyone who wants to make an application using Phila.gov standards will be able to reference one source for that information. By making many important design decisions up front and documenting them as patterns, consistent, beautifully designed interfaces can be built in a fraction of the time. The ePay Gateway was recently launched and is the first website outside of alpha.phila.gov to use Phila.gov Patterns. We were able to cut in half the time it would normally take to build the interface because almost all of the design elements were already present in the pattern portfolio.

Phila.gov Patterns is built on Foundation 5.  We started with a great front-end framework with a large community behind it. Working with Foundation makes creating grids, menus, and buttons extremely fast and easy and lets us focus on the harder development tasks. It is designed to be customized, so it is simple to repurpose common elements like headers, footers, and lists, but also to build more complex patterns as we continue to refine and add to alpha.phila.gov. Additionally, we also built test pages, so that it would be easy to see an example of the kind of things developers can create. These pages help define how the patterns work together to create a full-fledged website.

Phila.gov Patterns is running on Jekyll and hosted on GitHub Pages. We take advantage of Jekyll’s collections feature to allow us to make each pattern standalone, including markup and metadata, and then automatically compile all the pattern content into one master list on the home page.

It is worth noting that originally we were using Pattern Lab, another fantastic tool for creating pattern portfolios, bundled up within Daisy, from the brilliant folks over at Harvard Business Review. Pattern Lab gave us a vocabulary to classify our patterns and Daisy taught us about HBR’s pattern workflow, but ultimately we opted to use Jekyll for a lighter tech footprint.

We have come a long way from the early days and early ideas of this project and we hope that you will continue with us on this journey as we strive to improve our process and and products into something we all can be proud of.

RECAP: Philly Innovates Summit

photo (26)Last week, the City of Philadelphia hosted a “Philly Innovates Summit” to highlight the successful implementation of the new Philly311 Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and other innovative initiatives within Philadelphia city government.

Through technology demos, panel discussions, a police vehicle, and even a youth hackathon, the day was an interactive celebration of how Philadelphia city government connects with residents. The summit was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and hosted over 500 attendees.

The Philly311 CRM is the system through which customer questions, complaints, and service requests are entered and dispatched, connecting customers to Philly311 agents and city departments. Built on the Salesforce platform and implemented by Unysis, the new CRM has helped Philadelphia city government connect with citizens in more thoughtful and engaging ways. The platform allows for customers, Philly311 agents, and city departments to track requests and discuss progress. Philly311 agents have heightened mapping capabilities and a centralized knowledge base (among other features) to provide better service. Community members can even use the platform to plan events and collaborate on neighborhood issues.

On the platform, Managing Director Rich Negrin said, “The new CRM has helped us reimagine the citizen and government relationship. It’s a platform that empowers, connects, serves, and will evolve to meet the future needs of our city.”

Chief Customer Service Officer Rosetta Carrington Lue said, “ Philadelphia’s citizens are our customers, and we are driven to use the best tools possible to make sure every citizen is connected and we hear their voices, loud and clear.”

The Philly Innovates Summit included presentations from:

  • Mayor Michael Nutter, City of Philadelphia
  • Rich Negrin, Managing Director/Deputy Mayor, City of Philadelphia
  • Rosetta Carrington Lue, Chief Customer Service Officer, City of Philadelphia
  • Adel Ebeid, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Philadelphia
  • Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President, Salesforce
  • Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, Philadelphia Police Department

The Summit also revealed a “Philly Innovates Blueprint” which explains “how mayors across America can adopt and implement Philadelphia’s vision for a “Connected City.” View the blueprint here.

Philly Innovates: People, Place, Process (VIDEO)

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology has released the latest installment of its “Philly Innovates” series. The video explores efforts in managing and building a capacity for innovation within city government.

“People, Place, Process” is an aspect of the city government’s innovation management strategy:

  • People refers to the Academy for Municipal Innovation, through which city employees are trained on the principles of innovation in partnership with Philadelphia University.
  • Place refers to the city government’s Innovation Lab, where city employees can work, collaborate across departments, brainstorm, or engage in innovative programming.
  • Process refers to the city’s Innovation Fund, which provides seeding funding for new, interesting ideas with the potential to improve the services and functions of city government.

By connecting these three components in a thoughtful way, city government can build a capacity to create, support, and actualize innovative ideas. Check out the video and let us know what you think in the comments.

The New OpenDataPhilly

We are excited to share in the announcement of the newly redesigned open data portal, OpenDataPhilly.org.  Funded in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and maintained in partnership by Temple University Center for Public Interest Journalism (CPIJ) and local software company Azavea, the new OpenDataPhilly features upgrades on both the front and back-end, creating a more user-friendly experience.

The site offers comprehensive access to the City of Philadelphia’s 150+ open data sets along with data from a growing number of other public agencies, non-profit organizations, universities and commercial organizations throughout the region. Users can quickly search, access and download data for use, follow data sets for update notifications, and offer feedback on data that is currently available.  Previously, users would not only have to check  OpenDataPhilly, but GitHub, PASDA, phlapi.com and other sites in order to find the data that they needed.  Now, all of that information is in one place, consolidated as promised in our  Open Data Strategic Plan. Unlike before, the City now also has the ability to maintain, add, and update its own data sets while still contributing to the community portal as a whole.

Moving forward, OpenDataPhilly will also support a list of unpublished data sets from the newly published Data Inventory. Like the current inventory, the community will be able to submit potential use cases and expressions of interest for individual data sets. That public feedback will be used to inform the prioritization process as data sets are queued up for release.

The launch of the new OpenDataPhilly marks a great milestone for open data in the City of Philadelphia. Open data is more accessible than ever before, with members of the community using open data to power apps, visualizations, analyses, and more. We look forward to seeing the innovative ways that you use the City’s data, too!

The Citywide Data Inventory – A New, Public Resource

As we set out to build a more effective pipeline for publishing open data, we also had a very big question to answer: What data does the City collect in the first place? Sure, there are data sets that cities across the country have published, and others that are frequently the topic of journalistic inquiry or right to know requests. But there’s a ton of information collected that people inside and outside of the organization just flat out don’t realize  exists.

So we began working with departments to get a better understanding of the data they collect. Instead of diving immediately into technical detail, we began asking existential questions like, “Why does your unit do what it does?” followed by, “What information do you collect in the process?” Individual data sets were identified and additional contextual information was gathered about each one.

The result is what we are calling the Data Inventory, a new resource for public and internal use. It is a work in progress  – we’ve kicked things off with twelve departments so far, and today marks completion of the first four, including the:

  • ​Commerce Department
  • Board of Ethics
  • City Commissioners Office
  • Office of Emergency Management

Take a look and you’ll find a list of all 75 data sets housed by these four departments, with not only names and descriptions of their contents, but information about the quality of the data, current formats, and who you can contact at the agency of origin for more information. Some of the data sets are already available to the public while others, like Critical Infrastructure, are highly classified and cannot be released.

The other reason for creating the Data Inventory is to get feedback from you(!), the public, as to which data sets you are interested in and why they should be prioritized for release above the others. To do so, first go to the Data Inventory and check out the list of data sets. Find something of particular interest? Click “view” to the right of the data set, scroll to the feedback form on the bottom of the screen, and tell us why that data set is of interest to you. We’ll take your input back to each department for them to make informed prioritization decisions on which data sets to release first.

With eight more agencies currently taking an inventory, and many more to come, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the data that is collected by the City. There is lots more on the way, so check back on a regular basis for new releases and to provide input along the way. We look forward to hearing from you!

alpha.phila.gov – Update #3: Organizing Information

Like many government websites, phila.gov is currently organized like our organizational chart, meaning that you have to first know the department before you can get to the service or information you need. For example, in order to learn more about your water bill online, do you visit Water Department? Revenue? Water Revenue? What are the differences and should you have to spend extra time trying to figure that out?

No, you shouldn’t.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 1.41.43 PM

As we redesign phila.gov to best meet people’s needs, it is critical that these services and information are accessible and intuitive. In order to do that, we have to understand how you naturally categorize these services so that you can get to them as quickly as possible.

Our first step was to look at phila.gov’s web analytics see which City online services get the most use.

We picked the top 40 services and started trying to place them into big buckets of information like “Payments & Taxes” and “Streets & Utilities”. These buckets became alpha.phila.gov’s draft Information Architecture (IA), which is just a fancy way of saying “how we organize information”.

Now that we looked at the data and took a stab at organizing it, we show to the public in order to figure out if our assumptions were correct. We set up tables in the basement of the Municipal Services Building where hundreds of residents wait in order to handle licensing, permits, or payments with a live cashier. We offered the public delicious, fresh Beiler’s Donuts for their time doing a card sorting exercise with our categories.

The exercise went a little like this:

  1. Lay out all of our categories and subcategories [e.g. Payments & Taxes –> Pay Your Bill] on a set of flashcards
  2. Hand our lovely (and very diverse) volunteers a set of cards with our top services on them. [e.g. Pay a water bill]
  3. Tell them to take a service card and place it in a category (and then a subcategory) – if you don’t see a fitting category, let us know, and let us know what type of category you feel we’re lacking. [e.g. do they select Payment & Taxes as their category to pay their water bill? Or do they go for Utilities and then Water?]
  4. Take notes. Lots of notes. Hesitations, suggestions, keywords said aloud, and where each card ended up… write down everything.
  5. Give them a donut and thank them for participating!
  6. Take it all back to the office… analyze and adapt our IA wherever we see patterns forming.

If our participants didn’t have enough time to sort cards, we would simply ask them a few questions about how they have used phila.gov in the past and what they’d like to see improved.

We have made small but important changes to the IA with each of the four tests we ran in January. While we were close with our assumptions, the public pointed out issues with our categories that we did not foresee. Continued IA testing will be a part of our process, particularly as we transition new content into Alpha.

alpha.phila.gov – Update #2

We have been working a few different fronts during this past iteration of alpha.phila.gov, all of which have been either subtle changes or completely behind the scenes. Our team will expound on each of these in future posts, but here is a summary:


Alpha has been hosted in the cloud from day one, but much of the early configuration has been manual or not well optimized. We are making our hosting environment more robust through server optimizations and automating both infrastructure and software deploys.

Pattern Portfolio

Even as we continue to improve on our design, we’re looking ahead to how we can achieve design consistency across our sites and applications, be they built internally, by vendors, or even the civic tech community. We’re breaking down our design into its basic building blocks and organizing them in a pattern portfolio, which will be a very useful as Alpha evolves.

Testing how we organize information

A shiny new website is worthless if people can’t find the services and information they need. We are testing how we organize information with Philadelphia residents to make sure people can find what they need as easily as possible.

Building an open data infrastructure

Click the image for an interactive timeline of data releases in 2014

2014 was a great year for open data in Philadelphia – we saw departments release over 30 datasets, including big ones like Lobbyist Activity, Contracts for Professional Services, and Commercial Building Energy Usage, along with the publication of the Open Data Strategic Plan. But if you look at the release dates in our Open Data Census, you’ll see that we’ve gone over thirty days without any departments releasing a dataset! We thought an update was in order.

In the Strategic Plan, we laid out a vision to scale open data and make it “part of the way we do business as a government.” Rather than approaching data releases on a case-by-case basis as we would do as part of an initiative, we want departments to be able to look at the “full picture” of datasets and prioritize based on measured public demand, and we want a system in place to ensure data releases are consistent, responsible, and automated. This amounts to building an “open data infrastructure,” and it’s a bit different than what we’re used to working on. So far, we’ve:

Met with 43 department heads and Deputy Mayors to review the Open Data Strategic Plan

Step one of the process outlined in the Strategic Plan is “Meet with each department.” We’ve hit the ground running and learned a great deal about the people we’ll be working with and some of the data challenges they have in their operations. Most importantly, the openness and enthusiasm we received gave us a great sense of optimism.

Kicked off data inventories with 12 departments

Step two of the process involves putting together a list of all the datasets at each department. As you can imagine, this is a huge endeavor, but a critical one. It allows us, the department, and the public to see the full picture of what data exists, and determine up-front which datasets can be shared as-is, which ones need sensitive data removed, and which ones can never be shared. Most importantly, it lets us prioritize. Once these priorities are established, it’s just a matter of executing. This means more releases at a faster rate.

Of those 12, some are just getting started (like the Streets Department) and others are inches away from completion (like the Commerce Department). Follow along on our Open Data Census in the “Current Pipeline” section.

Built a Data Services team

There’s a lot of work ahead on open data. Fortunately we have friends in the Civic Technology, Application Services, and GIS teams to lend a hand, but we’ve also built a team specifically focused on implementing the Open Data Strategic Plan, including:

  • Stacey Mosley, Data Services Manager
  • Lauren Ancona, Data Scientist
  • Jessica Magness, Data Science Intern

We’re pretty serious about this stuff :)

Acquired an open data automation tool

In the “What we’ve learned” section of the Strategic Plan, we highlighted the importance of automation. Where avoidable, open data shouldn’t be a burden, and departments shouldn’t have to manually refresh their data every month. We’ve selected a tool (Safe FME) to automatically extract data, transform it to a shareable state, and publish it to various destinations. More importantly, we’ve been learning how to use it! In addition to the GIS Services Group, Andrey Mun, our Senior Software Engineer, has been training his team in preparation to scale our automation efforts.

Formed an Open Data Advisory Group

In June, we began to convene a small group of “open data stakeholders” that represent diverse communities of data users. These include academia, technology, business, non-profit, journalism, and more to help us gauge and understand public demand in a more holistic way. As we near completion of the first few inventories, we’ll discuss them with the group and put step three of the Strategic Plan to the test.

Kicked off a new redesign of phila.gov that will help us reach the general public

Step five of the Strategic Plan is about open data reaching people through a compelling “digital front door,” helping citizens connect to their government through more than just CSV files. Last month we kicked off alpha.phila.gov, a project to create a user-centered redesign of the City’s website. Check out the blog posts by Aaron Ogle and Kyle Odum, who are managing the project, to learn more.

There’s still a lot left to do to realize an open data infrastructure, but we’ve got our plan in front of us and we’re excited by the momentum we’ve been able to build in just a few months. Follow along at the Open Data Census, join the conversation on the Open Data Forum, and stay tuned for more progress updates!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 647 other followers