One of the most common questions I get as Deputy Mayor and Managing Director is, “What’s a typical day like?” People seem to want to know what a “Day in the Life” is working for a great City like Philadelphia. The true answer is, there is no such thing as a “typical” day in this job; it can be a fast-paced survey of projects, conversations with employees, interactions with community members, Interviews with media, updates for the Mayor and the Chief of Staff, speeches on important issues, and some days, dealing with unexpected crisis. My days are often about not knowing what to expect. In this position, I constantly have a front-row seat to some of our City’s great accomplishments and, unfortunately, to some of our most horrendous tragedies. While no day is the same in my position, last week, I had a day that serves as a striking snapshot of what it’s like. There may not be “typical” days in this job but there are days that are so poignant that they underscore my role and the many challenges we face as a City. So when I looked at my calendar to decide when might be a good day for a “day in the life” post, Wednesday, June 17th looked good. It had a variety of subjects, speeches, events and meetings that I thought showed the diversity of issues involved in this role. I asked for and was assigned an intern, Samantha Kapnek, to ride along and help capture the busy day. I was looking forward to a full day of productive meetings and meaningful events.
Little did I know that it would be one of the more memorable days of my service. Little did I know that my day would begin and end with one of the most important and challenging issues facing our City and country.
The run-down of my day went something like this:
7:00am-8:30am: Wake up. Prepare for work. Coffee and quick breakfast. Scan all the papers on-line and review social media feeds, respond to emails, review notifications from Police Department on major incidents overnight and into the early morning hours. Today, as I prepared to leave for a middle school to discuss gun violence, two notifications specifically grabbed my attention.
Message generated from the City of Philadelphia Employee Alert System.
Message generated from the City of Philadelphia Alert System.
8:30am-9:00am: Travel to Kensington section of the City.
9:00am-10:30am: Arrive at John B. Stetson Middle School. Speak at the opening of a 5th grade class’s memorial garden project for loved ones impacted by gun violence. (Collectively, the class had over 80 loved ones impacted by gun violence.) Speak about the tragedy of gun violence, share my personal experience, hear the class’ experiences with it, and discuss the need for both legislative and cultural changes throughout our country. Share stories, spend time with 5th graders, teachers, and PhillyRising staff. Speak with Channel 6abc news on the garden’s opening.
10:30am: Travel to office in Municipal Services Building in Center City.
11:00am-12:00pm: Meet with Fleet Department Commissioner, Chris Cocci, on operational updates and status of capital investments related to public safety vehicles. Review 5 year plan to replenish and modernize vehicles and equipment.
12:00pm-12:30pm: Review documents related to PhillyRising neighborhood expansion.
12:30pm-1:00pm: Meet with Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff on new directive around large special events and emergency employee deployment.
1:00pm-1:15pm: Eat lunch at my desk. (Soup) Review email, on-line news and social media feeds.
1:15pm-1:30pm: Meet with Deputy Chief of Staff regarding mail, scheduling and upcoming events.
1:35PM: Another police alert:
Message generated from the City of Philadelphia Employee Alert System.
1:30pm-2:00pm: Meet with Chief of Staff regarding next year’s National Urban Fellows. (The Managing Director’s Office hopes to have two urban fellows next year exposing students to public service and providing research and policy support.)
2:00pm: Intern Samantha Kapnek joins me for the afternoon events.
2:00pm-2:30pm: Speak in the Innovation Lab at the last session and graduation of a Center of Excellence leadership development training for City employees. Present professional certificates to graduates and have Q&A with leadership class participants.
2:30pm-3:00pm: Meet with Philly311’s Head of Operations, Sheryl Johnson, on 311’s organizational changes and staffing needs during the Papal visit and other upcoming large summer events.
3:00pm-3:15pm: Welcome America update. Meet with the Office of Special Event’s Bob Allen on 4th of July planning.
3:15pm-3:30pm: Travel to Federal Courthouse Ceremonial Courtroom at 6th & Market in Center City.
3:30pm-4:00pm: Speak before federal judges and judicial interns at the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program orientation held at the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Discuss my career path and legal career, diversity in the legal profession and public service.
4:15pm-4:30pm: Speak with the Center of Excellence’s Edward Garcia on his idea for a new workforce development opportunity for returning citizens.
4:30pm-5:00pm: Travel to Citizen’s Bank Park in South Philadelphia.
5:00pm-6:30pm: Arrive at Citizens Bank Park. Speak at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Ceremony. Congratulate 15 of Philadelphia’s newest citizens on being sworn in. Congregate with the new citizens, their families, Phillies team representatives and the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs’, Jennifer Rodriguez and Fernando Trevino.
6:45pm: Travel home
7:30pm-9:30pm: Arrive at home. Order food for family. Put my youngest daughter to bed. Review email on-line, news and social media feeds, sit down to watch TV.
10:00pm: My heart sinks as I receive the first message about the shooting in Charleston.
10:00pm-1:30am: Watch in disbelief and horror the coverage of Charleston Massacre across news outlets.
1:30am-2:30am: Lay restless trying to sleep thinking about the days events and, despite such great progress, how far we still have to go as a society.
My day began and ended with gun violence. This is an issue which has personally touched my life with the death of my father and an issue which has impacted me so profoundly as Deputy Mayor and Managing Director. One of the difficult aspects of this job is the repeated exposure to complex problems in our city and feeling an overwhelming responsibility to fix them. Whether it’s the violence in our neighborhoods, our children too often caught in the crossfire, open season on our police officers or the widespread proliferation of guns, we need to do something about the gun violence in our society. The shooting in Charleston was a horrific attack and one that could have just as easily happened in any city or town in America. It was an act of terror. Earlier that morning, I was with 5th graders in Philadelphia as they told me about their personal experiences with gun violence. Many of their families too, have been terrorized by gun violence. It was gut wrenching. Now, at the end of my day, Charleston was gut wrenching. Gun violence continues to be a blood stain on our society.
While this busy day gives a snapshot of what it’s like to be a big City Managing Director, it also gives an accurate snapshot of what it’s like to be an American. Whether it’s the mass shootings at our churches, schools, malls, movie theatres or the violence in our neighborhoods, we are constantly surrounded, overwhelmed, and terrorized by gun violence. This cannot be the status quo. This cannot be our “Day in the Life” any longer. And you don’t need to be a Deputy Mayor or Managing Director to make a difference.
I hope we all do our part to make sure we no longer have days like June 17th.
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.
As we wrote about last week, the City’s Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) Services Group has undertaken a massive housecleaning project resulting in the approval of dozens of new data sets for public release.
The project, which involved taking an inventory of the City’s central warehouse for geospatial data, has yielded some important results for city government. Along with the data releases, the project has helped the City’s GIS publishing policies and practices evolve and spread to an increasingly unified internal community of geodata analysts and publishers, ultimately transforming the way the City of Philadelphia publishes and shares geospatial data.
Today, the City is releasing the second of three batches made possible by the GIS group’s project. (Last week, a batch of “Streets Department” geospatial data was released.) Below are the contents of the “Urban Planning” release, broken down by departmental owner. Stay tuned for next week’s release!
- US Congressional Districts (2012)
- Census Tracts (1990)
- Census Block Groups (2000)
- Census Block Groups (1990)
- Census Blocks (2010)
- State House Representatives Districts (2012)
- State Senate Districts (2012)
- Zoning Steep Slope Protection Area
- FEMA Flood Hazard Areas 100 and 500 years
Office of Housing and Community Development
Office of Innovation & Technology
Office of Property Assessment
For years, the City of Philadelphia has stored geospatial data from various departments in one central warehouse. Over time, the warehouse amassed hundreds of geospatial data sets of everything from ZIP Codes, to police districts, to bike lanes. Because of this long-standing warehouse, a strong culture of cross departmental-collaboration exists amidst the geospatial analysts. However, as happens over time, many data sets became outdated and the warehouse required some fresh eyes.
As a part of the City’s newly expanded Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) Services Group efforts to redefine policies and standards for sharing and publishing data internally, the team took it upon itself to clean up this central data warehouse. It was a housecleaning project, and a tedious one. First the team created a comprehensive inventory of the warehouse, making sense of duplicate or erroneous data sets. The team then worked closely with geospatial analysts within each department to refresh useable data, removing unusable data, update metadata and revisit whether or not the data could be shared with the public.
The housecleaning project is approximately halfway complete thanks to the efforts of Deputy Geospatial Information Officer Grant Ervin and Lead GIS Analyst Jennifer Johnson. It has already yielded some important results for City government:
- The geospatial data and corresponding metadata are more reliable than ever.
- Publishing policies and practices have evolved and are being communicated to an increasingly unified internal community of geodata analysts and publishers.
- Dozens of geospatial data sets have been newly approved for public release.
These outcomes have transformed the way Philadelphia City government publishes and shares geospatial data. The public will also see tangible results. Over the next three weeks, the City of Philadelphia will be releasing three batches of geospatial data in the categories of “Streets”; “Urban Planning”; and “Health and Licenses & Inspections”, respectively – a direct result of the GIS team’s housekeeping project.
Below are the contents of the first batch of data, all from the Streets Department. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as two more batches are released.
Streets Department Geospatial Data:
- City Plan Boundary
- Highway Sections
- Highway Subsections
- Leaf Collection Areas
- Rubbish/Recycling Collection Boundary
- Street Arterials
- Traffic Preventative Maintenance Districts
- No thru Trucks Streets
- Historic Streets
- Railroad Lines
- Street Poles
- Street Nodes
- Traffic Districts
- Bridge Locations
- Street Lane Closure Emergency Utility Network
This is a guest post from Ben Burenstein, KEYSPOTS Program Administrator
When the Office of Innovation and Technology and its partners set out to increase digital inclusion in 2010 by creating open-access computing centers called KEYSPOTS, we made sure to work with organizations throughout the city that were already known for their commitment to Philadelphia’s neediest people. Since then KEYSPOT computers have been used more than a half-million times. I’ve seen their impact on toddlers playing and learning about math and reading at special “Young Explorer” workstations, and on seniors smiling, delighted, as they message their grandkids with Facebook. I’ve heard it from teens making beats with midi keyboards, or chirping happily when they realize they graduated high school by passing computerized tutorials. And I’ve felt it in the proud firm handshakes of adults who progressed through computer basics classes, learning everything from mouse behaviour through Microsoft Office, and finally got jobs.
Many people came to KEYSPOTS nervous, sure that when they typed the wrong thing smoke would start to curl up and they would break the computer. When they meet the trained Computer Instructors and Digital Resource Specialists in the 50+ KEYSPOTS, however, they start to relax; and when they produce their first documents, set up email accounts, or work through the process of filing their taxes (among the many activities that have taken place), they feel more like they are part of the digital revolution rather than apart from it.
It’s been gratifying to provide hubs to support governmental and non-governmental programs. KEYSPOTS have worked on communicating and training Philadelphians on the goals of Shared Posperity. We’ve helped families learn inexpensive ways to obtain computers and get online. We’ve worked with the Digital Service Fellows, Youth Engineering and Science, and Coded by Kids to help youth develop skills that will lead them to higher paying jobs while at the same time preparing a more-tech savvy Philly workforce. One project, “The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It was featured in a Sundance Video.
What does the future hold for KEYSPOTS? We’ll continue to cover all the basics we know Philly citizens still need – word-processing, spreadsheets, internet searching, and supporting the schoolwork of kids in many Afterschool programs – while keeping our eyes on developments that are sure to affect us all, such as mobile technologies, virtual reality, and cutting-edge training methods to make sure our educational techniques are as up-to-date as our hardware.
Keep following the PhillyInnovates blog for more stories about KEYSPOTs.
Office of Innovation and Technology Honored in CIO100 for Integrating Open Data and Digital Inclusion
Open data and digital inclusion efforts are two important components in a municipal IT portfolio. Both working to increase access to information and technology, the efforts have a mutually beneficial relationship. Despite this, these initiatives often remain separate in strategy and implementation.
Earlier this month, the Office of Innovation and Technology was honored in CIO Magazine’s “CIO 100” for strategically integrating its open data and digital inclusion efforts. The CIO100 is a relatively prestigious award and typically honors private sector organizations that exemplify the highest level of operational and strategic excellence in information technology. It was an honor for the Office of Innovation and Technology to be included in this year’s award, but one that was well-earned.
The Office of Innovation & Technology has redefined civic technology by purposefully developing and integrating its open data work with an equally robust focus on digital access and inclusion. By strategically linking the two initiatives, the work of each complements and enhances the other. Open data efforts are maximized when equally robust digital inclusion work increase access to technology among the population and gives users the ability to consume information and applications. The City of Philadelphia has released over 190 data sets onto the OpenDataPhilly portal, has provided services to about three quarters of a million clients at its Keyspot computer centers, and has also developed a portfolio of civic technology tools such as the Philadelphia Property Search and the AVI calculator, among others. By strategically integrating two often separate initiatives, the City of Philadelphia has elevated each to a higher level of value.
Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid said, “We appreciate this recognition because it credits our entire organization and isn’t typically awarded to government. One reason we’ve been able to advance public facing initiatives like open data and digital inclusion is that we’ve strengthened our internal capacity to provide day-to-day technology support for city departments, and that’s a credit to our whole organization.”
Earlier this year, the City of Philadelphia hit the national stage to highlight its commitment to innovation and civic technology. We hosted the Philly Innovates Summit at the PA Convention Center, officially announcing the partnership between the City of Philadelphia and Salesforce in the launch of a new 311 CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. The system, a robust technology typically used in the private sector, will allow city government to connect with citizens in more effective and meaningful ways.
The Philly Innovates Summit was not just an announcement for our new CRM, it was a celebration of all we’ve accomplished over the past few years. Between our technology initiatives, our successes in open data, and our new approaches to engaging and serving our most troubled neighborhoods, Philadelphia city government has proudly carried-on the long-standing tradition of innovation in our city. Because a number of people have asked for a copy, I have included the video of my speech from the Philly Innovates Summit titled, “The Freedom to Innovate” which focuses on Philadelphia’s great tradition of innovation, and city government’s large role in keeping that tradition alive. I’ve also included the text from the speech below. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it encourages you–in some way–to keep “The Freedom to Innovate” alive and well.
The Freedom to Innovate:
Since the beginning of our City’s history, Philadelphia has been at the forefront of innovation, innovation that has been fueled by our essential freedoms. The freedom to assemble, freedom of opportunity, to conduct commerce and enterprise, to solve problems, and pursue happiness. Implicit in those freedoms is – The freedom to innovate.
As Rosetta said, we are widely known as a City of Firsts.
Whether it’s William Penn and the public square, or the long lists of Ben Franklin’s achievements, Philadelphia has long been a hub of innovation. And, as we all know, it was here that our founding fathers came together to innovate a country.
But we also know that innovation doesn’t always need to be so revolutionary – it can also be about using practical solutions to solve everyday problems. Nor does innovation always have to be about science and technology. It can also be about nuts and bolts simple solutions. So here’s one great example of Philadelphia Innovation that you might not know about.
In the year 1790, the first U.S. Patent ever filed was filed right here in Philadelphia by Samuel Hopkins. It was for the making of “Pot Ash” by a new apparatus and process. Pot Ash had many practical applications – it was used in soap, glass, gun powder and fertilizer. It doesn’t get more practical than fertilizer. The patent was signed by Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson and President George Washington.
Today, 225 years later, Philadelphia has been the source of more than 14,000 patents.
We are a city of innovators. The spirit of Mr. Hopkins is alive in Philadelphia today.
And as a community, we have made great progress in recent years.
In 2007, when our administration began we had a great deal of work to accomplish. Many of the innovations we share today were still ahead of us.
You are going to hear from one of those innovations in a few minutes —Adel Ebeid.
In 2007, we had no Chief Innovation Officer like Adel, driving an innovation strategy.
- No- Chief Customer Service Officer – Rosetta
- No – Open Data Officer like Tim Wisniewski
- No – 311, Award winning mobile app
- No – PhillyRising – neighborhood initiative – empowering citizens
- No – Social media presence – connecting with citizens in new ways
- No – Innovation lab
- No – Center of Excellence – modernizing project management, and performance management.
Today, all of that has changed.
As the first Administration of the Digital Age, we have embraced innovation and our place in the Innovation Ecosystem.
Today, we have new positions leading new efforts to improve City government and provide first class service to our citizens. We do not innovate for innovations sake, as Adel says “we innovate with intent.”
Our intent is to create a culture of continuous improvement inside of government and to empower and engage with our citizens outside of government. And we know we can’t do it alone we need great partnerships to succeed.
You are seeing an example of that today.
A partnership with a great local company, Unisys, and a great global company, Salesforce. You will hear more about that partnership later. That is just one example of the types of relationships we aspire to. Create efficiencies and an interconnectedness with our citizens. A type that can evolve with us as we re-imagine the citizen relationship.
Yes, we will put technology in the hands of our employees, but we won’t just create and wait – we will take technology to our citizens as well.
We will work to give Voice to the Voiceless, to Connect those who feel Disconnected, to Empower those who sometimes feel Powerless. To better Serve those who may feel Underserved. That is the power of technology.
We know that today’s leaders must prioritize and lift up the entire community. They must not be afraid to connect and join the conversation – even if that conversation is happening in 140 characters.
Today’s leaders are smart enough to know they don’t have all the answers. They know the smartest person in the room, is the ROOM!
They know the best solution for the neighborhood – usually comes from the neighborhood! They know that public service IS customer service.
That is how we redefine the citizen relationship!
Citizen as customer.
Our Mayor has made it clear, in Philadelphia we have no throw away citizens. No Throw Away Citizens!
That is an awesome responsibility
- To value every person
- To strive to hear every voice
To empower the quiet heroes in our neighborhoods
To build allies in our fight to improve the Quality of Life.
To provide the tools to connect with the City and with each other.
To connect with those who are like minded who also want to make their neighborhood a better place.
That is the VISION!
A vision that can not only be embraced but it can be built upon, that can evolve far beyond anything we can imagine today.
That is why we are here, not just to talk about where we are and where we are going. But so we might light a spark, an idea in your mind, that we can learn from each other and move forward together.
With government playing its role, sometimes working as a convener, sometimes as a facilitator, and yes sometimes just getting out of your way. If we are truly going to be successful, it will take government and all stakeholders working together. Because when Philly Innovates best – we innovate together.
If we are going to continue to rise above the long term challenges that plaque our City, an education crisis, gut-wrenching poverty, quality of life, we need creative solutions and the will to accomplish great things.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with this. Today, thanks to many of you, there are great innovative things happening across all sectors, in our big companies, in our colleges, hospitals, energy sector, on Nerd Street, Indy Hall, Philly startup leaders, DreamIt Ventures and many many more.
We are not only Re-Innovating Government, we are reimagining relationships between all stakeholders.
That IS the innovation ecosystem everyone is talking about.
They are talking about all of us.
This room is what an innovation ecosystem looks like! We know all our institutions should be great headquarters of imagination. And it is up to all of us to do our part.
Let today be just the beginning of the conversation. Together, we can make sure the Freedom to Innovate is alive and well and freely exercised in Philadelphia!
Thank you, God Bless…. Have a great summit!
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.
Today, the City of Philadelphia’s Fire Department released an inventory of data it collects and maintains. The department, in conjunction with the City’s open data team, compiled the inventory which lists and describes 168 data sets including fire incidents and permitted implosions.
The Fire Department is the eighth City agency to publish a data inventory, a major component of the City’s new open data process, and joins those recently completed by the Department of Licenses & Inspections and the Streets Department. With an increasing number of department inventories becoming available, the collection is quickly becoming a valuable resource for departments and the public to discover information that may be relevant to their work or area of interest. This makes cross-departmental collaboration even more possible as agencies begin to utilize the inventories to understand what information is collected City-wide, and whom to contact to obtain that information.
As with the previously released inventories, the public is encouraged to explore the inventory at at www.phila.gov/data/inventory/ and provide feedback as to which data sets are of most interest and how each data set might be utilized. This feedback, in addition to the feedback from the Open Data Advisory Group, will be relayed to the department to help inform their decisions when prioritizing data sets for release.
A complete list of the City’s published data sets can be viewed on the City of Philadelphia’s Open Data Census. The site includes metrics around published and unpublished data as well as the pipeline of departments currently working with the open data team to publish data inventories. Published data sets are available for download on OpenDataPhilly.org.
When I was selected to participate in the Academy for Municipal Innovation, I had no concept of what it would entail. I was aware of the program’s existence. I knew it was designed to teach City employees about the process of innovation and I knew it was created in partnership with Philadelphia University. I also knew the Academy had a goal of building a capacity for innovation inside government. But the foundation of the program was hard to conceptualize. Was innovation actually a process? Could it be taught? Could my participation help build a capacity for innovation? I had no idea.
19 City employees, including myself, were chosen to participate in the Fall 2014 offering of the Academy. My colleagues, an impressive group of City employees, spanned a range of departments and job functions. Most of us did not interact with one other in our day-to-day positions. Now, we’d be traveling to Philadelphia University every Tuesday afternoon to learn how to innovate together.
On our first day, Philadelphia University’s Vice President of Innovation, D.R. Widder expounded on the concept of innovation as a process. He described innovation as something that could be learned and used to repeatedly solve problems and develop ideas. Philadelphia University taught the innovation process through different approaches to thinking and problem-solving. Each approach looked at a problem or idea through a different lense and came with its own set of exercises. Over the next six weeks, we explored design thinking, systems thinking, end-user research, story telling, value propositions, and business analytics, among others. After each topic was discussed by a professor, the cohort would break into groups to complete an exercise that simulated how that approach could be implemented in a municipal government setting.
It was the breakout sessions that sold me. My colleagues and I dove into these exercises, using post-its and whiteboards to explore new ways to generate ideas and solve problems. We categorized ideas based on their importance and “difficulty to implement”; we mapped-out how stakeholders interacted with a situation; we identified the positives, negatives, and “potentials” of a program. While brainstorming and problem-solving exercises might sound elementary to those who do not regularly engage, these exercises were valuable tools that could be implemented in our day-to-day jobs. These exercises helped us see situations differently, identify new problems, and develop better ideas. These exercises helped us innovate in a way that could be repeated.
By the end of the Academy, I was convinced that innovation was a process that could be learned. It took a little longer, however, to see how the program helped build a capacity for innovation. This wasn’t proven until a few weeks after the Academy, when I realized I could call any of my fellow colleagues from the program to help me solve a problem. While the knowledge from the curriculum was important, the real magic of the Academy was the network it built. The experience of completing the program, the shared knowledge of problem-solving approaches, the lessons-learned from our breakout exercises had made us a tight-knit group of colleagues and created a foundation of City employees that were willing and able to innovate. This foundation would grow as individuals used the tools they learned to solve problems and work together on shared projects. It would also grow with the each new cohort of the Academy. With each new cohort, city government gains a larger capacity for innovation.
Last week, the City of Philadelphia’s Open Data Advisory Group met to discuss three data inventories which were recently made available by the Streets Department, Licenses and Inspections, and the Programs Division of Parks and Recreation. The Streets Department’s inventory includes 101 data sets. Licenses and Inspections’ inventory includes 69 data sets. Parks and Recreation Programs inventory includes 16.
As the City does not have the resources to publish every existing data set at once, data releases are prioritized based on their value to data-users and the needs of the department releasing the data. To begin this process, the open data team works with a department to conduct an inventory of existing data sets. This inventory includes a description of each data set and classification of whether or not it contains sensitive material. Once the inventory is complete, it is released to the public for feedback and comments on which data sets would be most valuable, if released. The Open Data Advisory Group then meets to sift through the inventory and public comments to give its own feedback on the value of certain data. The open data team brings this feedback back to the department to prioritize data sets for release.
The Open Data Advisory Group was formed as part of the City’s new open data process. Comprised of representatives from internal and external organizations, the group was created to ensure that data-using communities had a representative voice in the City’s open data process. The advisory group meets quarterly to advise the City’s open data team on when and how data should be released, based on their communities’ needs.
The Open Data Advisory Group does not only discuss data inventories in its quarterly meetings. During last week’s meeting, the group received an update on recent data releases and events, learned about the City’s use of Socrata software in its open data process, and heard from the City’s Chief Geospatial Information Officer, Mark Wheeler, on the City’s G.I.S. initiatives.
The Open Data Advisory Group is comprised of representatives from City departments and external data-using communities. Last Friday’s meeting included the following internal members:
- Jim Garrow, Department of Public Health
- Adam Johnson, Licenses and Inspections
- John Curtis, Managing Director’s Office
- Andy Viren, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation
The meeting included the following external members:
- Garrett O’Dwyer, Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations
- Atul Shah, Philadelphia Health IT Circle
- Kate Hagedorn, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
- Yannick Baudru, SEPTA
- Paul Carrion, Committee of Seventy
- Gabrielle Connor, Econsult
In addition to providing their own feedback on data inventories, advisory group members were also able to ask clarifying questions about data sets and departmental processes from representatives from the Licenses and Inspections and Streets Department, who were present at the meeting. The Open Data Advisory Group meets on a quarterly basis and will meet again in September.
The next step in the City’s process is for the open data team to meet with Streets, Licenses and Inspections, and Parks & Recreation department heads to prioritize a batch of releases with the public and advisory group feedback at-hand. You can provide feedback on the Citywide data inventory here. All released data sets are housed on OpenDataPhilly, the catalog of open data in the Philadelphia region.
It’s important for alpha.phila.gov to be accessible for anyone regardless of physical ability, so we’ve collaborated with the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University to better understand the subject. Program Coordinators Jamie Paoli and Jule Ann Lieberman were kind enough to give us a firsthand account of how legally blind people find information on the internet. The insights we gained have shaped our accessibility strategy.
What we learned
There were three key takeaways from our time with Temple.
- A high priority should be placed on properly labeling links.
- Proper use of heading tags significantly increases success of finding the right information.
- Alternate text on images helps identify the importance of images and should be as descriptive as possible.
People without sight gather information from website with the aid of screen-reader software. Jule Ann showed us how she uses Job Access With Speech (JAWS) to read the content of a webpage. One feature she showed us was rather than having JAWS read the entire page line by line aloud to her, she selected to only have the links read to her which allowed her to skip around the page more quickly. By having only the links read aloud helped her find the content she was looking for faster. The software generates its list of links from what appears inside the <a> tags, and this is what is read to the individuals. Thus, if the link is labeled “click here”, that is what is read aloud. Without the surrounding context, which would take more time to read, the user has no idea where “click here” will take them. One of main the compliments we received was, in addition to having descriptive link text, we also made an effort to label links that would open in new windows. We achieve this by placing a <span> tag inside the <a> that is not visible on the screen, but uses CSS to hide it from the viewport. That way, it will be read to a person using a screen reader.
Another way we learned we could aid the visually impaired was to give them as many options as possible to get to content quickly. Jule Ann explained some of the most frustrating websites are those that do not use adequate headings on pages. A feature of JAWS will generate a list of headings and the heading level, which is read aloud to the user. An experienced JAWS user will listen to this list at 2 to 3 times the pace of normal speech, because the user generally is listening for a very specific piece of content, which they can easily pick out of a list.
When a sighted person sees an image, they can know instantly what content that image has in the scope of the page. Without specific, descriptive, alternate text a person using a screen reader would not be able to understand why an image is present or what its purpose is on the page. Ensuring there is appropriate alternate text on images, is another high accessibility priority.
Our experience at Temple was as informative as it was humbling. It gave us insight into the experience of people using technology in a way we were completely unaware of. Our visit strengthened our resolve and re-enforced our goal of making a website that is easy to use and accessible to all constituents of Philadelphia.