Tech Tuesday: Update on Open Data Initiatives

Earlier this year, Mayor Nutter laid out a bold agenda on government transparency and open data with the signing of Executive Order 1-12.

The Mayor’s Executive Order included a number of deliverables that were meant to put in place the framework for sharing data between City departments and the public. Over the past three months, we’ve been working hard to put the building blocks for a comprehensive open data strategy in place, and we’re excited to start sharing information on the changes that are underway in the City of Philadelphia.

Open Government Plan

The City of Philadelphia’s Open Government Plan is meant to describe specific steps and goals that the City will use to “incorporate the principles of open government into its daily activities.” One of the key components of this plan is that it be open to comment and feedback from “senior policy, legal, and technology leadership in the City, open government experts, and the general public.”

This plan is meant to serve a number of different constituencies, and each of which should have an easy, efficient way of reviewing the content of the plan and offering improvements. That’s why we’re excited to share the first version of the City of Philadelphia’s Open Government Plan as both a Google Document and on GitHub.

By sharing this first version of the plan as a Google Document, we hope people will review it and add their comments. For developers and technologists, we hope you’ll use the awesome tools provided by GitHub to fork and suggest changes.

In developing this plan going forward, we’re using the same approach we would use when building a piece of software. We’re going to use a version numbering scheme and iterate periodically to a new version and incorporate improvements and changes that have been suggested by stakeholders and other interested parties. We hope that this approach will have the same effect as a good development methodology has on software – that it will continually make the plan better over time.

Data Governance Advisory Board

To help guide the City’s efforts on open data, we are assembling a group of luminaries from the open data and government transparency world to join Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid and myself on a Data Governance Advisory Board. The list of prospective members that will be asked to serve has been completed, each has agreed to serve and the Mayor’s Office is in the process of completing a final review. Our goal is to assemble this group for their first Advisory Board meeting in early 2013.

Open Data Working Group

Internally, we have assembled a group of representatives from across City Government to advance open data. We’ve also asked our partners at the School District, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and SEPTA to join us in this effort.

This group is working to identify high value data sets that can be shared with the public and used to build apps, maps, and other solutions that make our city work better. In addition, and maybe more importantly, this group is helping to develop a set of guiding principles that will assist City departments and agencies in opening their data and publishing it for outside use.

The goal is to develop an “instruction manual” for city departments to use that includes all of the steps necessary to identify, review, release and maintain open data sets.

Open Data Portal

For the last few months, we’ve been working closely with the Philadelphia Public Interest Information Network (PPIIN), the organization that currently operates the OpenDataPhilly website, to develop a relationship that would allow the site to serve as the City’s official open data portal.

The City and PPIIN are currently working to finalize a formal memorandum of understanding that will govern the relationship and outline responsibilities for upkeep and maintenance. We hope to have this process completed early in 2013. Until that time, we are advising City departments and others taking part in the Open Data Working Group to use OpenDataPhilly as the canonical site to list their data for public use.

OpenDataPhilly is a site that was developed locally and that now has national recognition. It is highly visible in the data user community, is open source and low cost for the City to use. While we’ll continue to evaluate other options for the future, it makes perfect sense to leverage this existing resource as our open data efforts in Philadelphia develop.

More Good stuff to Come

And while all of this is important and necessary work, we haven’t just been working on getting the basic “plumbing” for open data in Philadelphia in place – we’re also starting to push some water through the pipes.

As I mentioned in my last post, we are currently beta testing an application programming interface (API) providing access to the City’s license and inspection data. We continue to push out new and useful data on the City’s Map Portal. The City will soon release detailed crime incident data, and before the end of the year we hope to deploy an Open311 API that will provide access to 311 services requests submitted thorough our 311 mobile application.

This is just the beginning of a process to realize the Mayor’s vision for a more transparent and open City government and it will also be a key component in our City’s innovation strategy.

5 thoughts on “Tech Tuesday: Update on Open Data Initiatives

  1. Mark,
    Thanks for posting this and for helping to make Philly a more open and collaborative city. The speed at which you’ve been able to accomplish your goals has been impressive – Philly is truly a leader in the Open Data movement in government.

    I’m biased but would love to see school data made available – not just the enrollment/achievement rates but more specifically the in depth spending data of the schools. This is the fastest way for 3rd parties like my company to identify areas of potential cost savings across schools/districts. With increasing downward pressure on budgets, it’s more important than ever that schools spend their money efficiently to ensure the best results for the administration, teachers and students. Having these data sets publicly available helps lower the barriers for innovating across schools, cities and public agencies.

    All the best in your continued efforts, and we all look forward to what this initiative has in stock for 2013

  2. Kyle – thanks for your comments. Identifying ways that open data can support new and existing businesses is definitely an area that is being discussed. Also, it’s worth noting that the Philadelphia School District has been an active participant in our Open Data Working Group since it began a few months ago – they’re not required to be, but they’ve joined in because they too see the potential benefits of open data.

    One of the things we must do is provide the appropriate tools and framework for public agencies to properly identify, review and release public data. Our agencies are excited about sharing data and using it as a vehicle for collaborating, but we need to give them the guidance to do it in a way that is efficient and repeatable. We’re working very hard on this front now, and hope to be able to share our progress publicly early in 2013.

    Also, not sure you are aware of this, but there is an upcoming event in Philadelphia that might interest you:

    Thanks again for your comments – be on the lookout for more information on our open government efforts soon.

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