Philadelphia’s Smart Approach to Open Data

Loraine Lawson

When I was a pavement-pounding beat journalist, I dealt with a lot of bureaucrats who couldn’t quite grasp the concept of “public data” or “open records.”

“I’m not going to give you that,” I’d hear. So I’d trudge back to my desk, file an open records request, and try not to look smug or overly self-satisfied when I was told I could pick up a copy of the records.

That’s one reason I’m thrilled at the prospect of open data projects, where public data is made freely available, without the clueless but still self-righteous gatekeeper getting in your way.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to read about Philadelphia’s open data program, which not only makes public data accessible, it actually hands that data over to someone else to make available.

The blog Technically Philly recently talked with the city’s Chief Data Officer Mark Headd about what’s in the works for city’s open government plan. It seems the city isn’t just being open, it’s being downright Web 2.0 about the whole thing. For instance, the open government is done, and available in two public online sites — GoodleDocs and Github.

The data portal, OpenDataPhilly, is unique in that it is not controlled exclusively by the city, but rather is headed up by a partnership between the city and the agency AxisPhilly, which is a news organization funded by the William Penn Foundation.

City data isn’t the only data available. While we may think of a city as including the schools, sewers and other government groups, that’s not really true. Often these agencies are operated by separate governing bodies and even funded by separate taxes. Typically, that means a city effort won’t include all the agencies within the city limits.

But the Philadelphia open data plan puts it all in one cyber location, thereby acknowledging that these organizational silos don’t matter to the rest of us.

Finally, the city is working on several APIs to provide access to things like the city’s license and inspection data, crime incident data and an API to connect with 311 services.


You can read all about the city’s steps to create an open data portal. The Office of the Mayor also published an update on the open data initiative this month.



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