Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

The Philadelphia Experiment

Three years ago next month, the City of Philadelphia’s open data portal was launched by local technology firm Azavea as part of the inaugural Philly Tech Week. Two years ago next month, Philadelphia joined the small (but growing) fraternity of cities to adopt a formal open data policy – a milestone that stands as one of the first in something I think of as an “experiment” in municipal transparency.

Since this experiment first began, our open data efforts have come a very long way, and Philadelphia is now looked at as a national leader on open data and civic technology. In many ways it is now time for a new chapter in the Philadelphia experiment – our city is ready to take open data to the next level.

For me, though, it is time to step back and take a different role in the Philadelphia technology community and the broader open data effort – both here and in other places.

How Far We’ve Come

In the last several years, Philadelphia has grown into a national leader on open data and civic technology. We enthusiastically share our experience and our ideas with other municipalities that want to kick off their own open data experiment.

Our open data portal contains dozens of new data sets added since the adoption of our open data policy, some released for the very first time by city government. The OpenDataPhilly platform has inspired efforts in other cities that look to us as a model for how to implement their open data efforts.

We have embraced not only open data, but also open source software and we are actively sharing both our code and our data on platforms like GitHub as a way to engage with the broader data community and tap into communities of innovators. The City of Philadelphia now has more public GitHub repos than any other city in the country, and more are on the way.

We’re leading the discussion on the development of new municipal data standards that will help speed the adoption of other open data releases, and enhance the value of civic technology.

We’re finding innovative new ways to engage with local technology vendors by making opportunities for smaller technology projects more visible. We’re using GitHub and other platforms to make responding to technology procurement opportunities easier, more engaging and more valuable.

We have a growing suite of developer-ready APIs that can be used to quickly and easily create powerful new civic apps. And, most importantly, we’re collaborating with one of the most active civic hacking communities in the country and helping to enable the building of all sorts of new awesome apps.

The Road Ahead

Philadelphia is ready for the next chapter in its open data experiment.

The milestones that lay ahead will see the release of important new data sets that will enable more meaningful and more sustainable civic engagement in our city. These new data releases and APIs will also help create the foundation for unprecedented collaboration between city departments and other governments. No force has more potential to enable significant improvements in government efficiency and operations than open data.

I’ll be watching all of this unfold from a new vantage point – as a member (once again) of the Philly technology and civic hacking communities. In early April, I’ll step down from my post as Chief Data Officer and return to being a professional technologist.

I’ll be talking more in the weeks ahead about exactly what I’ll be doing, but I’ll still be working with governments and open data. I’ll also still be in Philly – my wife and I will continue to live and work here, and our kids will still go to school here.

It has truly been an honor and a privilege to serve this great city, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Managing Director Rich Negrin and CIO Adel Abeid for the opportunity. I look forward to continuing to do so going forward, but from outside city government.

Philly’s open data effort has always been bigger than any one person – it’s always been about the community. It’s now time for me to rejoin that community.

See you at the next hackathon.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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