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,  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, 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! – Update #3: Organizing Information

Like many government websites, 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 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’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’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 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. – Update #2

We have been working a few different fronts during this past iteration of, 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 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, 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!

“Leading from the Front” a Video about Philadelphia’s Public Safety Strategies

Earlier today, the City of Philadelphia released a video highlighting four of its most innovative strategies around public safety. In the video, Mayor Michael Nutter, Chief of Staff Everett Gillison, Managing Director Rich Negrin, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and 1st Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross discuss Philadelphia’s efforts in community policing, intelligence and data-driven policing, stakeholder collaboration, and “leading from the front.” In the past two years, Philadelphia has posted historically-low homicide rates.

To learn more about public safety strategies in Philadelphia, visit and follow @PhiladelphiaGov and @PhillyPolice on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. – Update #1

Here we are two weeks since we kicked-off!  It has been an exciting time and also a very busy time (collective phew!).  We’ve been reviewing the feedback from the feedback form and the comments have been awesome!  Over 60+ visitors to the site have given helpful feedback and suggested what we can do to make it better.  With that we say, “Thank you. Your voices are being heard and we’re evaluating your ideas”.  We’ve had over 1,900 visitors to the site resulting in over 8,850 pageviews.  Additionally, we’ve received internal feedback as well.  These are the updates we are working on thus far:

  • Added the ability to add and view “news” from within and not just external links.
  • Added SwiftType to allow for better searching across the site.   This will allow us to provide much better search results to help visitors find what they are looking for.
  • Updated the “Pay a Bill” page listing by removing the “pay your” lead-in and sorted the list alphabetically. By removing “Pay Your” from the results visitors can now quickly look through the list of services they can pay online in alphabetical order.
  • Continuing testing out our Information Architecture to better serve up content. The goal here is to organize information so it can be easily found, easily managed and be extremely useful.  This includes techniques such as labeling content correctly, structuring content, and categorizing information into like groups.  We conducted our test using card sorting and the one big take away was that our assumption people would associate law, courts, and prisons with public safety was totally and utterly wrong!

Stay tuned as we continue to improve and update alpha.  We will be updating you again in two weeks!


Philadelphia is one of the greatest cities in the country, but it’s no secret that we don’t have a website to match. Like most governments, we tend to organize content the way we, in government, think about it – like an org chart, like a brochure – and not necessarily like residents think about government. And we typically spend a lot of time planning, gathering requirements, getting sign-off, and building a finished product for a grand reveal long after the process began.

It’s time for a new approach.

Instead of designing from our own assumptions, we will start with the needs of our neighbors, the residents of Philadelphia. We will learn how people want to use through regular usability testing and our web analytics.

Instead of designing the entire site up front, we will break down development into manageable, two week iterations. This agile process allows us to develop quickly and provides flexibility to adjust to user feedback and (inevitable) unforeseen issues.

Instead of working behind closed doors and making the public wait for a grand reveal, we will build out in the open. Today we are happy to announce the starting line —, or Alpha1 for short. Alpha is an experimental prototype, a work in progress. It’s missing content. Parts of it are confusing. The design needs work. But the prototype and supporting processes that our team of six put together in just six weeks is pretty incredible.

The goal of Alpha is to show you, our neighbors, where we’re starting and allow you to follow our progress. It gives you the opportunity to have say in crafting, Philadelphia’s digital front door2 into city government.

To make this really work, we need your help in three ways.

  1. Visit and tell us what you think. You’ll find a “Provide Feedback” link in the header and footer of every page. Tell us the good, bad, and ugly.
  2. Complete this survey. It’s quick and easy — a little bit about you and how (or if) you use
  3. Tell your neighbors! The more the merrier.

The current will remain in place while Alpha matures.

This is a big undertaking, but we’re not alone. We’re following in the footsteps of some amazing innovators like GDS, USDS, 18F, the State of New York, Code for America, and others.

There’s much to do. We won’t get everything right the first time, but we have a tried and true approach, an incredible team, strong supporters, and open ears. We’re looking forward to an exciting and productive 2015.

1 In our process, the “alpha” phase is for rapid prototyping and testing out ideas. As we get feedback from Philadelphia residents and government departments, we will discover a good path forward. We will then move into the “beta” phase which is to ensure that these are ideas are implemented at scale. Finally, the “live” phase is when we roll out fully to the public as the new (but we continue to iterate and improve).

2 “Digital Front Door” was shamelessly stolen from our friends at Code for America.



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