Thursday, July 10, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

SEPTA sets a good example for open government, seriously

We never thought we'd be saying this, but maybe more state and city agencies should be like SEPTA.

SEPTA sets a good example for open government, seriously

Photo courtesy of Mark Headd

We never thought we'd be saying this, but maybe more state and city agencies should be like SEPTA.

SEPTA, a quasi-public state agency, participated in the SEPTA "hackathon" this weekend, where software developers tried to make helpful applications related to the transportation system. And when we say SEPTA participated, we mean participated: Mark Headd, a Voxeo Labs developer and organizer of the event, said the agency not only gave geeks ready-to-use data, but actually showed up at the event this weekend.

“I’ve never been to a hackathon where the agency or organization that’s the subject, if you will, was physically present and working with developers,” he said.

The result: Nine SEPTA apps came out the event, some of which are scheduled to be released within weeks. Get details on them here.

Headd said that when the city provided data during a Philly Tech Week hackathon earlier this year, it “wasn’t put out there ready to use for the developer.” He stressed that local government should “meet developers halfway because there’s so much [the government] can get out of it.”

This makes perfect sense: During hackathons and similar events, government agencies are getting apps at either little or no cost, so they should be good partners.

But wait: Should local and state government be making these apps themselves? SEPTA has tech employees, right? And doesn’t the city have an Office of Information Technology?

Headd said he doesn’t see this as government’s job, partly because “application development moves way too fast for government to keep up.”

But, he said, what local and state agencies can do is “be good data stewards by making data available for people.”

After all, Headd emphasized, “it’s to their own benefit" — as well as, ahem, the taxpayers.

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