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Philadelphia Parks & Recreation released an inventory of data sets collected by its Program Division, which oversees programming and activities for the department. This marks the sixth City of Philadelphia data inventory release, following the Department of Licenses & Inspections, Commerce, the City Commissioners Office, the Board of Ethics, and the Office of Emergency Management.
As outlined in the Office of Innovation & Technology’s Open Data Strategic Plan, the Citywide inventory is both a public and internal resource to provide insight into what data is captured by each agency, and whom to contact for more information. The public is encouraged to comment on the data inventories to inform agencies what information might be most useful if published as open data. While being a source of reference, the Citywide inventory is also a tool for helping departments prioritize data sets for release. Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is using their newly-formed inventory in order to discuss how they can improve what data they have, how they manage it, and how they can better serve their programs’ participants.
The list of data sets from Parks & Recreation’s Program Division is now available on www.phila.gov/data/inventory/ and includes programming schedules, weekly attendance, amenities, and more.
About Philadelphia Parks & Recreation:
The Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation promotes the wellbeing of the City, its citizens and visitors, by offering beautiful natural landscapes and parks, historically significant resources, high quality recreation centers and athletic programs, along with enriching cultural and environmental programs.
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is comprised of the former Department of Recreation and Fairmount Park. Our newly merged organization includes:
- more than 10,000 acres of land throughout Philadelphia
- over 150 recreation centers and playgrounds
- hundreds of miles of trails
- over 150 neighborhood and regional parks
- hundreds of outdoor sports fields, courts, and rinks
- six golf courses and one disc golf course
- 70 outdoor pools, four indoor pools and six spraygrounds
- 5 Ice Rinks
- historic houses and structures
- picnic sites and sculptures
When it comes to fair wages and opportunity, it often feels as if workers all across America are underwater or taking their last gasps of air. I’m talking about the shocking numbers of hard working citizens who are struggling in ways they never could have imagined and are one crisis, set back or lost paycheck away from disaster.
This country was built on the promise of opportunity. The promise that any hard-working person could make a decent living, improve their lives and provide the basics for their family regardless of the industry or skill-level of their profession. That was a big promise. The kind of promise that helped draw so many here to America that it built this country from a small colony to a world power in just a few generations. For centuries, Americans have put their trust in it. They have put the faith of their families and their collective destinies into the belief that our nation—the land of opportunity—will allow all their hard work to pay off. And, because that great promise of America was there, they were very willing to sacrifice and work extremely hard. As a first generation American, I know my parents believed in that promise. No doubt your parents or grandparents or great grandparents felt the same. That solemn promise is just as important to the American worker today as it was 300 years ago. Unfortunately, we’ve been failing them.
The United States is in the midst of a battle for the dignity of the American worker and the very life of the American dream. Our nation’s income inequality is in the most drastic state in recent memory. It is estimated that 160,000 of America’s richest own more wealth than 145 million of the poorest. What’s more, our country is fighting over whether workers deserve basic benefits such as a livable minimum wage or parental leave. Far too often, our workers aren’t being valued; they’re being treated as expendable resources rather than citizens who are vital to the economic health of the United States. We have strayed far away from the promise of America and opportunity. Fair wages and a shared prosperity has simply not kept pace with the challenges facing our employees and their families.
Philadelphia is center stage in the battle for dignity and fairness in the workplace. This year, the City of Philadelphia raised the minimum wage for individuals working for City Contractors to $12.00 an hour, almost $2.00 above what the Federal Government has called for. Recently, Mayor Nutter signed a law requiring businesses with 10 or more employees to give workers at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. This law has been praised by national leaders like Hillary Clinton and, most recently, Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama on this issue, who just visited our city to show her support for the measure. Although the law is being contested by lawmakers in Harrisburg, I believe Philadelphia will prevail. As a city where poverty is such a profound problem, where an estimated 400,000 citizens live in poverty, Philadelphia has an important role to play in showing the rest of the nation how to value workers as people; how to honor the promise we’ve made them.
Leading from the Inside
So what can leaders at all levels of the City do about the dignity of the American worker? How can they affect this kind of systemic and cultural change? Leading from the inside is a great place to start. At the helm of the day-to-day operations of municipalities, city managers have the opportunity, as both large employers and government executives, to set an example for the rest of the city on how to value employees.
With more than 30,000 employees, Philadelphia City government is the 2nd largest employer in the city, second only to the Federal Government. That is significant both in terms of direct impact and influence. But it doesn’t end there, government should also work to set the standard for other significant organizations and institutions in the region. Far too often, the public sector trails the private sector in best practices. In Philadelphia, whether it’s around progressive policies or in driving innovation (like in the creation of an Innovation Lab ), we have tried to turn that model on its head. That is a new form of public sector leadership with government working to be a leader and early adopter. Supporting employees should be no different.
The Center of Excellence
While a city government is fairly constrained in the kind of monetary compensation it can provide, a municipality can invest in its employees and their future in many ways. In 2012, we launched the Center of Excellence to support and develop the city government’s workforce. We wanted to find a cost-effective way to invest in our employees. The Center of Excellence specializes in organizational development, project management, and performance management. The small team provides trainings, strategic consultation sessions, and facilitates performance management meetings across city government. The Center of Excellence also manages the Mayor’s Returning to Learning Program which helps City employees further their education and pursue college degrees with a 25% (or more) discount with area universities. By offering training, consultations, and opportunities for higher education, employees have a chance to get a better job, make more money, and better realize the American dream for themselves and their family.
Working with the Coalition of the Willing
While each function of the Center of Excellence has been successful, the numbers around its training sessions speaks to the greater need for these offerings. The Center of Excellence offers training in leadership development, supervisory skills, project management skills, and other more focused areas. This success helps to combat the unfair stereotype of the comfortable bureaucrat. In these sessions, employees have proven themselves eager to improve; committed to public service, and they continue to believe in that American promise. These classes fill-up within 24 hours every time they’re posted. In its tenure, the COE has delivered over 4,000 hours of training to over 500 employees across every City department. That translates to more than $4,000,000 in taxpayer savings plus the additional cost savings from the recommendations and efficiencies produced.
Recently my office created a video explaining the functions of our Center of Excellence and how we expect it to support our workforce.
The City of Philadelphia’s Center of Excellence is comprised of Jackie Linton, Laila Alequresh, Edward Garcia, John Curtis, Caitlin McDonald, Darren Johnson, and Suzanne O’Donnell.
What’s in it for You?
Last week, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini raised the minimum wage of Aetna employees to $16.00 an hour along with adding a robust professional development program. He said, “We’re going to invest in them. We’re going to give them all a chance. We’re going to educate them in a new way, but we needed to engage them first.” A recent analysis by the Gallup Organization found that organizations that support employees and create high levels of employee engagement report 22% higher productivity. That usually equates to more profits. By valuing employees, investing in professional development and creating a supportive workplace culture, any business can see those gains. That is the very definition of a win-win!
I hope the Center of Excellence and this video isn’t only interesting to you but that it’s useful as a model on how governments, city managers or any employer, can help fight for a shared prosperity. Ultimately, what’s good for the employee is good for the company—and all THAT is good for the country. As we work to recapture the American dream, let’s hope all these efforts become the type of life saver that keeps all of us above water.
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.
The Innovation Lab was packed last Friday. A group of twelve used a smart TV to evaluate a new website. Two employees wrote on a whiteboard to brainstorm about a public safety project. A group of seven, each with a laptop, worked together in a circle of chairs. The room was busy and animated but the groups were engaged. Everyone was working. And so was the Lab.
The City of Philadelphia’s Innovation Lab sits on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building, overlooking City Hall. Lining the walls of the bright room is a mural paying homage to the history of innovation in Philadelphia. The space is furnished with colorful chairs, patterned carpet, and light, movable tables that invite employees to not only be creative with their ideas but with how they arrange the space itself. The Lab is informally divided into two parts: one half is equipped with two large flat screen monitors and high-tech workstations for more formal meetings. The other half is furnished with lounge-style seating to facilitate smaller, more informal coworking sessions. Movable whiteboards are available for brainstorming, as are the Lab’s windows.
The room is atypical of government, no doubt. And it’s supposed to be. Mayor Nutter cut a digital red ribbon on August 1, 2014, marking the space as a physical commitment to innovation in city government. While encouraging innovation is important, designating a space for employees to think and work creatively can help that encouragement grow into a cultural value.
The Innovation Lab also serves as a convening space for government, whether it’s for a planned session or not. An open coworking space supports collaboration by simply enabling employees to be aware of one another. By breaking down the traditional barriers of department, office location, job title, and even cubicle walls, employees can solve problems with different groups of people, leverage other employees’ expertise of municipal functions, and form cross-departmental partnerships. It’s the kind of “together is better” mentality that could affect lasting change in a bureaucracy.
The Lab is one component of the City’s strategy to build a capacity for innovation inside government. Programming, both internal and external, is a major function of the Lab’s role. The Lab’s internal programming has largely materialized in the form of facilitated, cross-departmental meetings and professional development trainings like HTML classes, leadership development sessions, and performance focus groups. The Lab’s external programing aims to connect city government with Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem, both as a convener and a participant. City government can use the space to help foster innovation in like-minded organizations or to build relationships with the community-at-large. The Lab has hosted sessions for the Knight Foundation and the US2020 STEM Mentoring initiative, among others. The space can also be used to engage external stakeholders to help solve urban challenges with programming like the Code for Philly Democracy Hackathon. Since its opening, the Lab has hosted well over 215 events with nearly two-thirds of the events involving multiple departments. 66 of the events have involved external stakeholders.
These numbers are measures of the Lab’s success but last Friday is a measurement of a different kind. What would these groups have done if the Lab did not exist? The group of two would have likely met at one of the employee’s desks to speak about their project without a whiteboard or much formal brainstorming. The group of seven would have likely worked on the project together, from their cubicles, communicating through email. The group of twelve would have likely met in a conference room but would not have gotten to interact with the other two groups once the meeting was over. And that is what happened. All of the groups interacted once the meetings were over, sharing ideas about ongoing initiatives, asking questions, scheduling times to meet, breaking down the silos of government. A crowded room never worked so well.
The Department of Public Health released five data sets today relating to Health Services provided throughout the city.
The release includes:
- Ryan White HIV Treatment Centers
- Healthy Start Community Resource Centers
- Condom Distribution Sites
- Heart Healthy Screening Sites
- Air Monitoring Stations
The data release comes just in time for the Apps for Philly Health Hackathon taking place this Saturday and Sunday (May 2nd-3rd) at Temple University’s School of Medicine. Similar to March’s Apps for Democracy Hackathon, which focused on using technology to increase civic engagement, Apps for Philly Health will bring together healthcare enthusiasts, public health officials, technologists, community organizers, and civic-engagement experts for discussion, brainstorming, and rapid-prototyping of technological solutions for social good.
The general public is encouraged to participate in both the hackathon and the Community Needs Assessment the night before, to identify opportunities and discuss project ideas. It is a great venue for connecting citizens, subject matter experts, and technologists who share the common goal of improving health in Philadelphia. All are welcome.
For more information about the state of health in Philadelphia, check out the Department of Public Health’s 2014 Community Health Assessment. The report includes summary information and statistics on obesity, mental health, tobacco and alcohol usage, and more. Data regarding Flu Shot locations, Farmers Markets, Health Centers, and Healthy Corner Stores are also available on OpenDataPhilly.org.
As you may know, we’re building a platform for the delivery of city government services, available for public feedback right now at alpha.phila.gov. We’re starting small but thinking big, so we’re paying some attention now to devops and our overall deploy process.
In planning for the development and deployment of alpha.phila.gov I set a couple of requirements:
- Automatic deployment via push to GitHub.
- Infrastructure as code, also committed to GitHub.
These give us continuous delivery on a stack that can be easily modified and reproduced across production, staging, and testing environments.
The city’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) has been steadily moving services to Amazon Web Services (AWS), so I explored our options there. It’s more flexible in development stages than running machines internally, and provides a clearer path for scaling up as we grow into production.
At this point in the evolution of AWS, the users of Amazon’s services suffer from a paradox of choice. Among the deployment management options, we evaluated Elastic Beanstalk, CodeDeploy, OpsWorks, and rolling our own with straight EC2. For the reasons stated below, we eventually decided on OpsWorks, though we used CodeDeploy for a month while I set up our cookbooks.
While I know my way around a Linux box, I had never written a Chef recipe before, so it was tempting to stick with CodeDeploy and simply script the server setup with Bash. With OpsWorks, however, we have a more conventional way to set up configuration as code that can be committed, reviewed, and rolled back when necessary (see those recipes at github.com/CityOfPhiladelphia/phila.gov-cookbooks).
The UI for OpsWorks is also a cut above the rest of AWS, with very pretty overview layouts to gain an understanding of the whole stack at a glance. It really is a great feeling to add an instance to a layer in the stack and know that within a few minutes a new machine will be configured behind the load balancer, connected to the database, accepting requests and returning responses.
The local development environment
To set up a local development environment, all one has to do is clone the repo at github.com/CityOfPhiladelphia/phila.gov and run “vagrant up” in that directory. That process relies on Vagrant, a great tool for development.
Our Vagrant setup uses a simple bash script to approximate our production setup. I would like to use the Chef cookbooks for Vagrant as well, but the specifics for AWS (relying on deploy variables and connecting to the database at RDS) have delayed that across-the-board consistency. In addition, enough of our team has issues with Vagrant and VirtualBox on their machines (Windows and old MacBooks) that I’ve been investigating another route: EC2 instances in an OpsWorks testing stack belonging to each developer. This involves a slightly more complicated development setup (maybe using sshfs to edit those remote files), but gives us parallel environments between production, staging, and testing that are easy to keep in sync.
WordPress and Composer
We have separate repos at GitHub for our custom WordPress theme and plugin for alpha.phila.gov. In development, those repos are checked out within the main phila.gov repo and commits are pushed from there. When a developer on our team (usually the awesome Karissa Demi) is ready to test new code on staging, the following steps are taken:
- Push a new release for the theme or plugin
- Switch to a “clean” checkout of the phila.gov repo
- Run “composer update” to pull in the latest versions
- Commit the new composer.lock file into the staging branch on the phila.gov repo
The third and fourth steps above are made possible by Composer, a version-locking dependency manager for PHP. With Composer we can define dependencies in the repo, enabling us to manage our WordPress stack with committed code.
Getting WordPress to work with Composer involves modifications to the wp_config, such as overriding the WP_CONTENT_DIR. A number of other configuration values are set via environment variables, which allows us to use this public repository in our deploy environments. The update command also pulls in the latest releases of all of our third-party plugins, and can even update WordPress itself.
Once that composer.lock file has been committed, a push to the staging branch on GitHub will make any changes live on our staging stack at OpsWorks. This is managed by Travis CI, which sees any push to GitHub and tells OpsWorks to run a deployment. See our .travis.yml for configuration details.
Once the team has reviewed staging and decided the changes there should land in production, we create a pull request at GitHub between the staging and master branches. After that merge is complete, the same process involving Travis CI and OpsWorks handles the production deployment.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by OpsWorks. Little details make all the difference. For example, when I ssh into a testing box to land a hotfix or connect to the DB, the MOTD includes all of the machine information, so I know I’m in the right place before I start hacking away. Another nicety is that it’s easy to copy stacks in OpsWorks, which I’ve done to create our parallel environments. Also, while I took some time to climb up the Chef learning curve, our cookbooks ended up containing less than a hundred lines of code. I managed this on two assumptions:
- They rely on the built-in recipes at OpsWorks to do much of the basic machine setup, such as user accounts and database connections, and
- All of our machines are Ubuntu 14.04. Package names and configuration file locations are therefore specific to Ubuntu.
There are a few caveats, however. Those new instances that are so easy to spin up without any manual intervention take an absurdly long time to do so. Deploys are also slow due to all of the back and forth between GitHub, Travis CI, and OpsWorks. Finally, I fear that even though it relies on industry standards like Chef, OpsWorks encourages vendor lock-in because we get used to its way of doing things. That’s what a good hosted product should do, though.
We have yet to test the assumed scalability of this setup, and we’re just starting to build out our resource monitoring, but we’ve already reaped some benefits. One example is the recent launch of alpha.phila.gov/property. A small change to the nginx configuration in our cookbook set up the proxy for GitHub Pages. That change was deployed to staging and reviewed there. Once we were fairly confident it worked, we updated the cookbooks in production, and the service went live without a hitch.
You wouldn’t want Philly Tech Week to interfere with your weekly quizzo. But what if it didn’t have to?
The Office of Innovation and Technology has partnered with the Philadelphia School District to bring “Open Data Query Quizzo” to Philly Tech Week, an interactive dive into the school district’s open data. Quizzo participants will break up into teams to answer three rounds of questions, each round relating to a unique data set from the school district. In conjunction with the event, the Philadelphia School District has released all expenditure data, expanded to reflect all of the district’s expenditures, including those under $50,000.
Query Quizzo will be held at National Mechanics (22 3rd Street in Old City) this Thursday, April 23 from 4:00-6:00pm. The event is “bring your own device” and wifi will be available. There will be prizes awarded to the team with the most correct answers. We hope to see you there!
Well we know where we’re going
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowing
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
The opening lines of Road to Nowhere by the Talking Heads perfectly describe the process of making changes to web properties without determining how well the current site is working for its intended audience.
With the ongoing, iterative development of alpha.phila.gov, it’s become more crucial than ever that we evaluate the way the current phila.gov is being used — and perhaps more importantly — where we could improve. In addition to offering a feedback form on each page of the site and conducting live testing with citizens, we want to find out what users aren’t telling us.
To that end, today we launch analytics.phila.gov: a public, near-real-time dashboard representing traffic to the City of Philadelphia’s web properties. The application is based on an open source project developed by 18F in conjunction with the Digital Analytics Program, both housed inside of the General Services Administration, an independent federal agency.
In December, we began the process of implementing a unified digital analytics program for all city websites. This meant making sure each page of every site includes a snippet of code to send data about its web traffic to Google Analytics. This is the first attempt to capture a “big picture” website report card in Philadelphia, and it’s still a rough draft. There are currently almost 30 offices or agencies included in the reporting, with around 25 still to add, as well as several non-phila.gov domains.
We will continue to add more of the city’s web properties to this reporting in the coming months. As the alpha.phila.gov team continues to build out both content pages and redesign digital services, we’ll also add new metrics to these reports. Just as we develop in the open, so shall we measure and publicly report on the results of our efforts. This means we’ll need to look at benchmarking, create funnels and goals relevant to city services, and add custom events to fill in the gaps in measurement. But first, we’ll look at what users are already telling us – via their actions.
This data is publicly available for download, refreshed at the same intervals as the dashboard.
In the coming weeks, we’ll detail the specifics of our implementation and include instructions for deploying a similar reporting instance.
You hear it all the time, “It’s the little things” that make all the difference. Whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, our attention to detail is often the differentiator between mediocre and magnificent. I learned this lesson from a former group president of a great Fortune 500 company. His name is John Babiarz and, at the time, he was tasked with leading a billion dollar managed services company in the health care space. John’s company offered services in broad areas including: food and facilities management, maintenance, call centers, security and clinical technology equipment services in thousands of sites across the country. Despite that scope, as its leader, he always made time to travel and connect with his clients and employees. On one such trip, I learned a valuable lesson.
As a member of the senior leadership team, it was not uncommon for me to travel with John to meet with some of our largest clients. On this day, we traveled to Texas for a negotiation and site visit with one of the largest and most prestigious hospital systems in the country. After the formal meeting, we embarked on a tour of the impressive facility. As you can imagine, the staff worked overtime to make sure the hospital was spotless as we toured. John graciously met and acknowledged the hard work of the staff as we visited. And then it happened. He stopped talking, squinted his eyes and starred into the distance down the hall. I turned and looked, we all turned and looked, I didn’t see anything. Without a word, John slowly made his way all the way down the long hallway. He bent over and picked up what appeared to be a small cigarette butt and, without saying anything, quietly deposited it in a trash bin. You could see that what he did had an impact on the staff. The president of this big company was not above stopping and going out of his way to pick up the smallest piece of trash for his customer.
When I later asked John about this, he went into long detail about how critical cleanliness is in the hospital setting. How it often drives prestigious hospital rankings. How that is often the way infectious disease is spread and how in a hospital keeping the environment pristine is an important life and death issue that can significantly impact public health. I got it. I never forgot that lesson. It’s the little things.
Great leaders think BIG and act SMALL. Finding the right balance between “digging in” on details (and risk getting caught up in the minutia) and the big thinking strategic leadership your direct reports require from you is always a challenge. You can’t do just one or the other. The best leaders strike a careful balance of both. You can’t set a powerful and aspirational vision and not occasionally examine and confirm with specificity whether it’s being implemented and whether you are making true progress. You can’t set a bold road map and personally stray off the course. Your everyday actions must be consistent with the broader vision you have set for the organization. Great leaders find the delicate balance.
LEADERS THINK BIG
Leadership 101 requires a leader to set a clear vision, mission and core values for the organization. The leader must also work very hard to personally exemplify those values. Far too often leaders fall short of the standards they have set for the organization. We have all known that leader: “do as I say, not as I do.” That is not authentic and just doesn’t work. The effort may start off well enough but sooner or later (and usually when you’re faced with real challenges) the failure to truly embrace and reflect your vision shows up. If you are not meeting your goals as an organization, first look at whether your leaders (across the board) reflect the type of success you expect. If they do, ask yourself whether they are effectively driving the blueprint for success through the organization. That is something that requires everyday small actions and constant communication to achieve. (See my “Leadership,-Brick-by-Brick” post)
GREAT LEADERS ACT SMALL
Great leaders do the small things to live their values everyday. After they’ve set the broader vision, they ensure others in the organization are delivering with behaviors consistent with that vision on the front line. They personally live those values by demonstrating their personal commitment to the vision and the values of the organization. They dig in with probing questions, receive frequent briefings and are a real physical presence in the field to see outcomes and results for themselves. In doing so, they communicate a high level of commitment and engagement. I’m not talking about grand gestures but small behaviors and interactions that make all the difference.
Today, I frequently travel between my building and City Hall, almost every day, to meet with the Mayor and Chief of Staff. Because of that lesson, as I make the short walk across the street, I try to pick up just one small piece of litter every day. I do that not just for the symbolic gesture, but as a reminder that if we all do small acts, we can drive big change in our City. The big vision is we all need to be working to clean up our City. The small act is the one thing I try to do everyday that sends a broader message. Whether you are a City Manager, Deputy Mayor, a company president or one of our everyday heroes, if we all think big and act small, we can make our worlds a better place. How do you think big and act small?
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.
The goal in redesigning phila.gov is to build a municipal website that starts with the needs of people who use it. As we dug into our web analytics, it became clear that many Philadelphians come to phila.gov for information about real estate.
Bits and pieces of property information are currently spread about, so one has to visit several sites to get the full picture. Ideally, all of that information would be in one place, with the data organized and prioritized to best serve user needs. The search at property.phila.gov goes some distance toward that ideal, but we wanted to go further.
How do we go about determining data priority? We added a survey to the current search to find out what people are looking for, then scoured over 400 responses. One insight gained was a top five list:
With that new understanding we designed a property app that emphasizes the real estate information people most care about. You can see it in action at alpha.phila.gov/property.
The technology is fairly straightforward. The Property app is entirely client-side, fetching data via open APIs from the Office of Property Assessment and the Geographic Services Group. It will be easily extended to include other sources like Licenses and Inspections. The code (and issues we’re working on) can be found at github.com/CityOfPhiladelphia/property2.
In a trend we’re hoping will become the routine, Property is now public as alpha software. We’re testing both our ideas and the technology to see if this works for all of you. Please check it out and leave us some feedback.